Monday, May 27, 2013

Day 15 - Writing a Letter to a Veteran

I have never written a letter to a United States war veteran. As has been the theme of late, unseasonably cold weather and rain prevented me from following through with my original "I have never..." plans for the day. Additionally, my backup plan fell through when I found out the Wisconsin Veterans Museum is closed on Memorial Day (makes sense, right?). I knew I wanted to do something to recognize the true meaning of today's Memorial Day holiday. As a result, I began searching for local events or volunteer work honoring our veterans. After hitting several dead ends in my local search, I turned to a broader scope of research. Eventually, I stumbled upon the website for "A Million Thanks", an organization devoted solely to honor the men and women of our Armed Forces. At the top of their website I noticed a "send a letter" link. Clicking the link led me to a page that described the letter writing campaign run by "A Million Thanks" and explained how the letters received go to active duty soldiers, injured soldiers, or veterans in need of some support. I immediately knew I found my "I have never..." task for the day, so I put pen to paper and began writing down my thoughts on the commitment and sacrifice made by every member, past and present, of our Armed Forces.

As I started writing I began thinking about all of my friends and relatives that have served. Although I have thanked each of them individually for their service in the past, I wanted the letter to reflect the depth of gratitude and respect I hold for those active duty soldiers and veterans that are closest to me. I thought about each of their lives and the sacrifices they had made through their service. I recalled memories of their time away and remembering how I used to dwell on the fact that the fear and the absence I felt as they were fighting thousands of miles away paled in comparison to what they faced each day. I thought about those now departed and about the stories I heard from my friends and family members that had returned from the battlefield. I thought about what it meant and about how I could never fully understand their benevolence, their willingness to put it all on the line, in their commitment and service. The words flowed onto the page, doing everything they could to express the sense of gratitude consuming me.

The letter

I wrote without end until I felt I had, in the slightest way, conveyed some sense of thanks for the work and the commitment made by the soldier or veteran that would ultimately receive my letter. Although I knew I will probably never know where my letter ends up, I was writing to all soldiers and veterans; to those I know and those I never will. I wrote wishing every veteran could read my words and know the gratitude I have for everything they have done for this country. Before long, the page was full and the words spilled onto the opposite side. In time, the letter drew to a conclusion and was ready to be sent.

I read the words once more before folding the piece of paper and tucking it into an envelope with the "A Million Thanks" address already scrawled on the outside of it. I stared at the envelope for a few moments as it rest on my desk waiting to be mailed. I was gripped by the uncertainty of who would receive the letter and by the humbling sense that words on a piece of paper just weren't enough to truly thank them for what they have done. However, I knew I was likely doing more than most people would think to do on a holiday that has become more synonymous with summer fun and grilling than it has with honoring members of our Armed Forces. In turn, I readied the letter for the outgoing mail and decided that, while I did not know who will receive the physical letter I wrote, I would post the text of the letter here for any and all veterans that come across this blog.

To those of you I have thanked before and to those of you I never have, this is for you:

"Dear Veteran,

I’m writing you from my home located in Madison, Wisconsin on a dreary, overcast day with the temperature hovering around 56 degrees. While I’m accustom to such weather amid the waning days of autumn, its presence today comes as an unwelcome surprise given the time year. You see, today is Memorial Day, the “unofficial start to summer” for many, a reason to get out the grill for some, and, most importantly, a day to remember those who have served our nation.

The latter reason is why I write you today. While I’m ashamed to say this is the first time I have written a letter to a veteran, today has always been an important day of recognition and gratitude in my life. I have never had the experience and distinction of serving, but I’m lucky and honored to know many people whose courage, selflessness, and love of country drove them to that higher cause. Friends and relatives, some here and some departed, chose to be among the few that protect the many, and like you, made amazing sacrifices to defend and preserve everything it means to be American.

For that, I’m eternally grateful and moved to my core. I thank you and every veteran for everything you have done for all of us. While I will never fully understand the sense of purpose and altruism that led you into the service, I can acknowledge the heart, drive, and undying commitment to that noble cause that is at the foundation of every man and woman in the Armed Forces. From that, it is apparent this nation, and everything it stands for, is because of you. We are better because of you. We are stronger because of you. We are at liberty and stand as that beacon of light for all others because of you. You give meaning to independence and what it stands for in the United States of America. That’s more than anyone else has ever done for this nation.

The words “thank you” cannot fully express the appreciation I have for the work you have done and the commitment you have made. Know that your service and sacrifice carries invaluable meaning to me and many other Americans across our nation. On this day, Memorial Day, you and your brothers and sisters in arms deserve endless recognition for your service. Although I know it may be some time before it reaches your hands, I hope this letter helps express my gratitude for your service. We are indebted to you for everything you have done, and for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

- Caleb M."

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