Tomorrow, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there will be a ceremony in front of the Wallingford Town Hall honoring all those who have served in the United States military. It will be well attended, and should be, as we make note on this Veterans Day of the enormous debt all of us owe to those who have devoted part of their lives — and sometimes their very lives — in service to our country.
All of us are reminded of that debt on Nov. 11 and on Memorial Day, but I have had three other experiences that I would like to share that brought that debt home to me: a recent trip to the nation of Colombia, collecting vote tallies at the Wallingford Senior Center, and spending time with a U. S. Army chaplain last week.
In September, my wife Cathy and I spent two weeks in Colombia, mostly in the capital, Bogota. As we all know, the people of that nation have endured decades of violence and civil war, financed primarily by America’s pathetically insatiable appetite for drugs. And the reputation of this beautiful country full of strong, vivacious, decent people as a place of great danger remains.
But I am here to tell you that, in great measure because of the bravery of their men and women in uniform, the tide of violence is rapidly receding, and the incredible potential of this nation and its people is emerging. In our travels, we saw many soldiers still on duty keeping the peace, and it was very reassuring. Nowhere have I ever had the idea “if you have your freedom, thank a vet” brought home in such an obvious way.
Last Tuesday night, I was at the senior center when the polls closed to take down the vote totals from that polling place. As I watched the workers bustle about, and finally saw them open up the voting machine to print out the totals, it struck me what a profound privilege it is to live in a country where free and clean elections are so routine that we practically take them for granted.
Our veterans have put their lives on the line for the entire history of our country to guarantee that you and I can do just that. All the more profound to consider is the fact that the American soldier has fought and died so that people around the globe can also have an opportunity to share in that God-given right of freedom of which elections are such an important part.
On Friday, Nov. 1, I had the privilege of being in the company of Chaplain Brandon Moore. As has been mentioned in this space previously, there is an organization within the First Congregational Church of Wallingford called Holy Joe’s Café that has provided hundreds of thousands of pounds of donated coffee to military chaplains in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Chaplain Moore and Tom Jastermsky, the person responsible for the Holy Joe’s effort, were presenting certificates and flags to some of the people whose firms have been donating thousands and thousands of dollars in warehousing and transportation services.
In his presentations to Bailey’s Express in Middletown and CCI Logistics and Challenger Freightways in Wallingford, Chaplain Moore related heartfelt stories of the positive effect that a fresh cup of coffee has on the lives of soldiers fighting for us thousands of miles away. As only a man of the cloth can, he put a very human face on the impact that this and the hundreds of other similar efforts around the country are having.
Nov. 11 is the one day when we officially thank each and every man and woman who served or is serving. But it does not need to be, nor should it be, the only day. There are many ways to make every day Veterans Day. Let’s do just that.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.