America Will Not Forget.
(Reminders available if necessary.)
The idea was to simply go and enjoy my husband Scott’s softball tournament. It was to be a mini vaca from our everyday life. A break is necessary no matter what your lot in life. That‘s what I’m told at least.
I‘m addicted to my everday life. I don’t want to take breaks from it. If my life is a sentence, there is no period at the end of it. It’s a run-on sentence that just keeps going. I spend my time and my soul with my traveling pictorial tribute honoring the military. As the mother of a Marine and part of a large military family, the tribute is woven into my heart.
Every day, my small team looks for a veteran to honor or a story in military history of the near or distant past. We believe in the old saying about dying twice. The first time is when you pass and the other is when your name is no longer spoken.
We take photos of all the veterans we meet with a promise they won’t be forgotten. We carefully make their photo into a wooden memento and place it in a forest of thousands of other veterans on Christmas trees that can be found 365 days a year. Hero covered Christmas trees never looked so inspiring.
It is not something I do, it is my “life’s work“ as someone just recently told me. As I travel with the tribute, the mission is repeated often: “Never let sacrifice be forgotten or taken for granted.” The tribute travels from town to town “parking” in the windows of America’s Main Streets or going to events it has been invited to. There is no charge. America’s veterans already paid the price.
The goal of the tribute is to find the “at risk“ veteran. I know they are out there. Some of those veterans have told me they have seen my tribute in their town. They come every night to see it. They come when no one is around to drop what they need to drop and/or to take what their soul needs to take. Some come twice a day. For some, it has saved their life. When you feel forgotten, there is much to be said in discovering that you are not.
For the Gold Star families, it is a place where they know their child is guaranteed to not be forgotten. It is a place for their loved ones to continue to serve simply by their photo reminding America of the sacrifices that others make. We need reminded that not everyone comes home for Christmas and some never come home at all. If we are worth fighting for, they are worth remembering.
Admittedly, the tribute rarely leaves my mind because I have such a passion for it. Right at that moment, I was trying to be a good wife and be supportive of my husband. Trying to focus on his game. On that particular day though, a rest from my mission was impossible. Just days before, many but not enough Americans were still reeling from the raw emotions of the Withdrawal from Kabul congressional hearings. The description of the events of the withdrawal from Kabul, Afghanistan were like shattered glass on a cement floor. Without mentioning names but desperately wanting to, the veterans who were sharing their experiences gave us enough food for thought to feed a whole country. My soul is broken for them and the 13 America lost that day.
Just sitting and watching the game, I realized standing in front of me, was a softball player with the names of the Fallen 13 sprawled across the back of his jersey. Another player on his team had them made, a veteran named Neil. I wanted to cry. I immediately went out to my van and grabbed my wooden trunk with their photo mementos wrapped carefully inside. I take them with me A LOT, for moments just like that. The man did not know the names on the shirt. He does now. He thanked me for sharing the story.
The 13 are not important just because they are fallen heroes although that is enough. They are important because they also represent 20 years of sacrifice from the thousands of veterans before them. They are important because they were never sent there to fight but merely to clean up a fight that started just a few years after some of them were born. They are important because they were in no way prepared for what they would face, nor was anyone. It’s why we remember the 13. Honoring them is honoring all who have lost something of their body, mind, or soul in the 20 year war. Make no mistake, America will not forget. If they do, there will always be some of us to remind them.
LL Egerter, The Tree of Valor
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