Thank a Veteran Today. Freedom Is Not Free.

SSGT Bill Napper
My dad, SSGT William Napper

As a military brat I’ve always been sentimental when it comes to the fine men and women who serve our country. My own father was a Marine and spent over 20 years serving our country. He worked hard to balance a wife and a family of three kids while still going off to war, training for months at a time away from home, and year-long debts where he would have to move far away from us.

As a kid I spent my time living on military bases and moving every two to three years – the soundtrack of my childhood was harrier jets and stealth bombers whizzing above me as I swung on my swing set and played with my friends. Watching my dad pack MREs and get ready to go away to Korea or some other foreign land to play “war games” was the norm in our household. I can’t tell you how many times we would accompany him to the flight line early in the morning just to spend an extra few minutes with him before he’d be gone for months.

I was taught by my parents that being an American was a privilege, and that most people in the world weren’t fortunate enough to enjoy our freedoms. I was taught gratitude and respect for my country and what it stood for. I think this was especially imparted upon me when I lived in Okinawa, Japan for three years during high school.

When I moved to Okinawa I was thrown into a foreign land with a foreign language and culture. These were the days before the internet (yes, I am that old!) and all we had was one American-run television station and radio station to have any sense of “norm” of what was going on back home. (Ah, AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Services) – those military-produced commercials still crack me up!) Phone calls were done over a ham radio at the USO for those of us who couldn’t afford the $7/minute phone calls back to the United States to talk to grandma and grandpa. (I think it was at least a year before I stopped saying “over” when I finished a sentence talking to people once I moved back to the United States!).

Lloyd Duffin
My grandfather, Lloyd Duffin, USMC

When you live on a military base you will hear Taps played every morning. You will see soldiers running in formation and singing a cadence every morning as they “pt”. You will see tanks driving down the road. Before every movie at a theatre on base they play the National Anthem and each and every person in the theatre stands up, takes off their hats, puts their hand over their heart and sings along. And, trust me, even when you are getting all geared up to watch Arnold in The Terminator you still shed a tear when you sing your beloved National Anthem.

Throughout my childhood I saw the sacrifices my dad made (and our family made with him). I was acutely aware that war was always a possibility and that there were all of these brave people around me willing to fight for freedom at a moment’s notice. It never was lost on me how very selfless they all were and how passionate they were about being an American and our freedoms.

In high school I was old enough (to my parents horror) to start to fraternize with some of the younger Marines on base. They were barely older than me, just children themselves. Many of them were immigrants and second-generation immigrants – which really shocked me. When I would ask them why they joined they would categorically say it was because they were so grateful to have a life in America and wanted to give back to the country that they had grown to love.

William Napper, Jr.
My brother, William Napper Jr., USMC

As an adult my younger brother joined the Marine Corps and nearly all of my friends joined a branch of service or ended up marrying someone in the service – those of us military brats who spent our entire lives living on base found civilian world crazy and hard to deal with in many ways, so being in the military felt like home. Even still today my closest friends are the ones I went to high school with in Okinawa and we are all still deeply connected to the military.

As I’ve grown older I’ve become even more grateful to our men and women in uniform. I look around and see my friends who have sacrificed so much – just as my dad, grandfather, uncle and brother did. As a girl who thought seriously about joining the military and instead gave college a try, I marvel at how my friends were able to take the leap to sacrifice so much so that I can continue to be free.

I firmly believe that we should honor our active duty military and veterans each and every day – not just on a holiday that is set aside from them. While I love seeing the “Veterans Eat Free

Patrick Duffin
My uncle and namesake, Patrick Duffin, USMC

Today” signs on Veteran’s Day I wonder why it is we aren’t giving to our servicemen and servicewomen each and every day for what they’ve given us. I think we should all go up and thank a soldier for what they have done and continue to do for us each time we see one. (Unless you live on base and then, well, you’d get nothing done because you’d be shaking hands all day long!) I think we should all take a moment each day and have gratitude for living in such a great land. I think we should all honor our flag, our country and our brave men and women – because, truly, without them we would have nothing.

On this Veterans Day I want to say thank you to each and every soldier who has served and is currently serving our great land. Thank you for all you do for each and every one of us. I am eternally grateful for the freedom you have afforded me through your sacrifices.

And, Dad, I love you.