Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day 46: Two Girls and a Veteran

The plan for Wednesday, November 11th , was for me to join my public library. I walked to my neighborhood branch, but when I got there, I found a sign on the door: "The library is closed today for Veterans Day."

Not only was I disappointed that today's plan for me to get a library card was no longer possible, I was embarrassed that I absolutely no idea it was Veterans Day. No idea. November 11th has always been just San Francisco Elizabeth's birthday for me.

I walked back to my house trying to figure out how I was going to rectify both problems. How can I commemorate Veterans Day for the first time ever?

When I got home I logged on to Facebook, and no surprise, people had used their status updates as a vehicle to honor all of the nation's veterans. I followed suit, leaving messages and texting the veterans I knew, thanking them for their service to our country.

This all felt cheap and not good enough. Like sending an email forward instead of a personal email to tell someone that you love them. I consulted my friend Matt aka "Mo" at work. He is a veteran and I thought he might have an idea of how to celebrate veterans on their (his) day. "Can I take you out for a beer or something," I asked, "Is anyone having any Veterans Day drink specials?" He seemed apprehensive, which is not like him. He's a huge supporter of the blog and usually up for anything.

Most of the organized Veterans Day activities were not an option. It was already close to noon, so all of the parades were over. I searched the local newspaper and came up with nothing. Do people, besides those at banks, the post office and the library, not celebrate Veterans Day?

I was even more determined to not let the sun go down before finding some way to mark this holiday. Day 46's thing I've never done before was to spend Veterans Day with a veteran.

Mo had agreed to help me achieve this task. I made him promise that he would let me pay and that we would do whatever he wanted. So joined by our friend Katy, we went for drinks at the Nook in midtown Atlanta. Before we went, Mo headed home and brought us a photo album from his time in the Army. So while sharing drinks, we listened and looked to Mo tell us about his time in the Army.

Mo enlisted in the military when he was 17. He actually needed his dad's permission to join because he was too young to do it on his own. He left for basic training in July before ending up at Fort Leonardwood in Missouri. He was only supposed to be there for a couple of months, but ended up staying for six while waiting to get a security clearance. While waiting to move to his next base, Mo learned how to be a carpenter and a plumber. He wanted to get trained to be an electrician, but because not enough people had signed up for the class, he was denied twice. That means, I guess, that more people wanted to learn how to fix a toilet than make things spark? Fascinating.

Mo moved on to Fort Gordon, Georgia before going to Camp Carroll, Korea, where he was stationed for one year. I do not know much about my own dad's time in the military (other than the fact that nothing difficult my brother or I ever faced would ever be as tough as the time he served), but I do know that he was also stationed in Korea. So, as Mo was telling his story, I made a mental note to ask him about it the next time we were together (perhaps on our next date that I pay for).

At Camp Carroll, he explained that in addition to their daily on-the job duties, everyone in his squad's formation had an "outside" job duty. When the workday was over, everyone knew what to do. One person got hamburgers, one person brought music, one person brought beer. Everything, even the non-military stuff is organized. They were a team.

I could relate to a lot of Mo's stories, as they reminded me of my early college days--meeting and befriending people from all over the country, drinking for the first time and the antics that ensue as a result, for example (a six-pack of Schlitz tall boys cost a mere $1.80 in Korea, which aided them in their efforts, but still, a lot was the same). There were many, however, that I couldn't begin to relate to.

Perhaps the most poignant part of our conversation came when Mo told us about the military's Roll Call. Roll call is a tradition practiced after a soldier dies. While in formation, the squad leader calls the deceased person's name three times as a reminder of their absence. No response is made. Just silence. There had been a memorial for the victims of the Fort Hood shooting the day before and Mo said he had to get up from his desk and walk away when he heard their version of the Roll Call begin. I got chills.

We never discussed it, but I started to sense that the reason Mo may have seemed apprehensive to my wanting to use Veterans Day as a way to knock out another day on the blog is because this day for him is one that he remembers every year. Not because it's necessarily a festive one like July 4th, because as the case for so many veterans, sometimes their military service is not one that ends on their own terms. This day for him, and for all those who have served in the United States Armed Forces, is not about drink specials or a day off from work. It represents the sacrifices they have made or will make for our country.

This experience, this blog, for me, is about trying new things and doing things I've never done before. This November 11th opened my eyes to a whole other side of someone I thought I knew pretty well.

Mo is the wacky Florida Gator fan who has dressed up like Santa Claus for work and organizes putt-putt outings and betting pools. But as I learned over Coronas this Veterans Day night, the life he has already led and the stories he can tell stretch far beyond football tailgates and trips to Las Vegas.

Sorry, Elizabeth, November 11th isn't just about you anymore. Thanks to Mo, it will now be about him, my dad and all of the veterans I know and don't know. Thank you for your service, thank you for sacrifices.


  1. Of all your blogs this was by far one of the best.

    And since I know this "Mo" person I know how much it probably meant to him, even if he didn't show it.

    Good stuff Steph!

  2. As long as you don't get it confused with Memorial Day I will be happy.