Thank you for your service... It's the custom here in northern Utah (and most likely, in rural areas across this country) to pay respects to veterans of military service on any patriotic occasion. Independence Day is one of those occasions, and in the past few days I've had several instances when such respects were directed at me – something that very rarely happened in California. In fact, just once that I can recall in my 40+ years of residence there.
Those of you who don't know me should know that there was nothing heroic about my military service, and I was never in anything even remotely resembling combat. I was a computer technician, and I was good enough at that to be in demand for work both on my ship (the USS Long Beach, CGN-9) as well as on other ships in the Pacific and on a few land stations. The closest brushes I ever had with combat were being helicoptered into Saigon for three days (to fix a computer for the Marines) and a rather scarier incident in the Indian Ocean wherein I was part of an operation that almost deployed by plane to rescue American teachers and Peace Corps workers that Idi Amin had taken hostage in Uganda. That operation was canceled when Idi Amin backed down. Everything else about my military service was routine and essentially risk-free if you don't count the thick cigarette smoke that I breathed every day.
The first recent instance of recognition was about 10 days ago, at the Hyrum “Star-Spangled Rodeo”. That event is associated with Independence Day here, though it comes early. As the rodeo started, there was the traditional parading of the colors and singing of our national anthem. After that was finished, the announcer did something that caught me by surprise: he called for all the veterans in the audience to stand up – and then he asked those still seated to show their appreciation. I stood when asked, a great deal of noise was made, and as I looked around a fair number of people were looking at me and clapping or otherwise making their appreciation known. That is the first time in my life that anything like that happened, and though I knew it was something essentially directed by the announcer ... it was also clear that most of the people making noise were sincere in their appreciation. This was all quite startling for this veteran who is far more used to derision than he is to appreciation.
Then this past Saturday I was in the local grocery store (Macey's) buying toasted sesame seed oil for the (wonderful!) poke that Debbie made. As I went through the checkout counter, the clerk – a young woman of perhaps 25 years, who we've made the acquaintance of in the past – said “Weren’t you in the Navy?” Apparently in some past conversation I'd mentioned that, and she remembered. When I answered in the affirmative, she reached for my hand, shook it kind of strangely in both of her hands, then kissed my palm and said “Thank you so much for being there when your country needed you.” Wow. That started a conversation in which I learned that her fiancee was a Marine deployed to Iraq. She's afraid for his safety, but very proud of her man. As I pushed my cart away and back toward my car, she ran out and gave me a hug, saying “Thanks again!” Again, a singularly unusual experience for me.
Finally, this afternoon my phone made the noise indicating someone had texted me. When I looked, I found it was from Mark T., the contractor installing our sprinklers. He said “Happy Fourth of July Tom. Thank you for your service to our country.” He and I have talked rather a lot over the past year, and my Navy experiences have come up now and then. Obviously he remembered. His expression of appreciation took me completely by surprise, though. A pleasant surprise, to be sure, and once again has me reflecting on just how different the culture here is than it was in San Diego. It's nearly inconceivable to me that any of the dozens of contractors I employed in San Diego would ever do such a thing. Here it's still surprising to me, but perfectly conceivable.
I'm still not used to being respected or appreciated for my military service, though. It feels very strange, but certainly not unpleasant. Just weird...