I sat on his knee and learned to drive, twisting and turning the wheel as he held me close easing the pedal down just enough to coast the truck forward. When it came time to honk the horn, he told me to honk his banana nose.
I squinted my eyes, raised an eyebrow and wrinkled my nose, skeptical that his nose could make a honking sound.
“It will honk, piccolina!”
“Noses don’t honk.”
“Principessa!! Squeeze my nose!”
I reached over and pinched his nose.
I gasped, eyes widening.
“Ahhh Ahhh Oooooohhgah!”
“I told you it honked!”
I squealed in delight as we “drove” from one end of the driveway to the other. My grandmother thought he was crazy. I thought that he was the most amazing man in the world. He was my personal hero – my grandpa – the soldier, the cement mason, the family man. And I adored him.
My grandfather was fiercely proud of his heritage – Italian by birth and by name, American by choice and by grace. He served in the Army in WWII. He was a military man like his father before him who came over on the bigga bigga boat from the Shoe in the Ocean to have a better life. My great grandfather came through Ellis Island and fought in the war in order to become a citizen. He was passionate about his adopted homeland and about the opportunities that came with hard, honest work.
I come from a family of servicemen, including my uncles who were in Vietnam and my brother who was in Germany. James’ father was an Army man. We are proud of them, of their contributions and who they are to us and to this nation. They are the ones who stood for, who fought for what so many of us take for granted. By choice or by draft, they served because they believed in this land, our founding principles and a hope in a future filled with freedom and opportunity.
Every day men and women leave their parents, their siblings, their spouses and their children to serve. They sacrifice so that we can vote, debate, protest and breathe the sweet air of freedom. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their service that cannot be easily repaid.
But heartfelt thanks go a long way. Take a few moments today to reach out to soldiers and their families. Even the very small, “Thank you for your service” goes a long way to those who serve even those who would rather there was no need for soldiers, guns and wars.
In fact, if you really want to show your appreciation, carry that thankful attitude into tomorrow, next week, next month. Carry it with you wherever you go so that when you see that soldier at the bus stop or in the airport, you can extend an unexpected, “Thank you for serving” long after the flags have stopped waving and the crowds have gone on to shopping for Christmas.
Never diminish. Never disregard. And never forget.
I love you Grandpa. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your strength. Thank you for your guidance, humility and honor. And thank you for making me see the value of my heritage, my freedom and my nation. I miss you.