Vote as act of gratitude for U.S. veterans

So there’s an election coming up next Tuesday. Like me, I’ll bet you’re sick to death of the spinning, pontificating, polling, and back-biting; the Facebook posts and YouTube videos, TV commercials and brochures, phone calls and bumper stickers. It’s enough to make you want to lock yourself in a closet with a sheet cake and a fork, and forget the whole darn thing.

But let’s tune out the din and take a good long look at this thing called voting. It’s a right and privilege bought at a terrible price on warships and battlefields, in airplanes and trenches, on American soil and foreign lands far from home. Countless veterans have served, fought, and died to secure our right and freedom to cast a vote in the greatest and most wonderfully free country on the planet.

It’s easy to take America for granted because our veterans have always had our backs. They protect us from the bogeyman, and allow us to sleep soundly in a dangerous world. God bless every last one of them.

I revisited Memorial Circle, which guards the flagpole at Hastings High School. At first glance it’s a humble, circle-within-a-circle of raised brick walls topped with colorful summer blooms. I am not a Hastings native, and therefore found it quite by accident several years ago when I stepped inside to check out the purple petunias. Instead I discovered a floor of bricks engraved with the names of Adams County veterans who died in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam — solid-sounding names like William Gustav Lundt, Marion Quillen, James Hoyt, and Gary Cowles. I wondered what they and their families were like. I envisioned Thanksgiving dinners and
Christmas presents, birthday cakes, first cars, and graduation announcements — the trappings of everyday life growing up in the American Midwest. I imagined uniforms and goodbye hugs from weeping loved ones as they left home for whatever lay ahead.

“God bless you, son!” their fathers might say. “Stay safe and write when you can.”

I imagined the chaplain’s dreaded visit, telling Dad his son wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or birthdays, or ever. I thought of a wave of grief so great it could sweep you away; pain that ebbed and flowed until reality settled in and life marched on. Generations pass and still the missed ones serve — holding me up while I check out petunias.

I’ve met others, too; these heroes who protect my sorry hide. There’s Chet Bennetts, a Marine who served on the front line of Operation New Dawn, which began in the dead of night on Nov. 7, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq. He lives to tell the harrowing tale, but four men in his unit of 17 did not.

There’s the family of 1st Lt. Kevin Gaspers, who was killed in the line of duty in As Sadah, Iraq, on April 23, 2007. I stumbled past Kevin’s tombstone while training for a half marathon last spring. The memory of the city’s reaction to his death came flooding back, and nearly drove me to my knees.

It’s the names in memorial bricks and cemetery granite, and the faces of those still with us that should come to mind when Election Day rolls around — well above the pollsters and pundits, the protesters and even the candidates themselves. We should imagine veterans lining the paths to the polls, because their sacrifices allow those polls to exist. Let’s cast our votes as an act of appreciation for their service in holding us up in this place called America, a land they fought so hard to protect.

I’ll close by borrowing — with text slightly altered — from the plaque at Memorial Circle. “This vote is dedicated to those brave men and women who served their country with honor and pride and made great personal sacrifices. All gave. Some gave all. We thank you for your service.”

Oh, and please, folks. Let’s also line the streets during the veterans’ recognition parade on Saturday in downtown Hastings.

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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