In the middle of all my Memorial Day shopping and party plans, I heard something so poignant, so true and so profound…
….that it stopped me in my tracks.
It was a story of a World War II vet who was visiting the memorial in Washington DC and someone stopped him to thank him for his service. They told him how much they appreciated him and what a sacrifice he had made for his country and that he was such a hero for fighting for our country overseas.
“I’m no hero,” he said.
“The true heroes are the ones that never came home.”
The truth of that statement was like an arrow to my heart.
I’m so grateful and thankful for the gift of today because of all the men and women who have gone before. I’m able to raise my children and my family in a place full of liberty and opportunity and independence. I’m able to live in a country where freedom is truly free because of the sacrifice of others.
And for that?
From the bottom of my heart—I say thank you.
A giant immeasurable thank you to all those who have served and continue to serve.
You are my heroes.
So to celebrate Memorial Day, I thought I’d re-share a story—one of my favorites.
It’s about a sailor who sailed away to fight for his country when the future looked so uncertain and precarious and unsure.
And the miles and miles of ocean between us….
….and the sweetest I love you I ever heard.
A long time ago on a navy base far away, I stood in a royal blue dress with brass buttons and shoulder pads and control top pantyhose with high heels —wearing bright red lipstick and red Lee Press-On Nails.
I desperately clutched a metal chain link fence with tears streaming down my face…..
….and I watched as my new husband sailed away.
Frantically, I ran down the fence with eyes blinded by tears, hoping to catch one more glimpse before the ship turned the corner and headed out of the harbor. My shoulders shook with sobs as the ship grew smaller and smaller on the horizon and eventually disappeared. Even now if I close my eyes, I can still see hundreds and hundreds of sailors lining the rails of the decks of the ship that day. Each one standing at attention, saluting proudly with their crisp white uniforms gleaming in the sun and their heads held high as they left for the Persian Gulf war to fight the unknown.
Not one of those sailors knew what the future held.
Not one of those sailors knew what the fighting would bring.
Not one of those sailors knew if they would even return home. There was talk of nuclear bombs and chemical weapons and radiation and things that would make even the strongest of hearts quiver a little.
They sailed on.
After my husband’s ship sailed away, days and weeks went by, and as the country watched with rapt attention—the conflict escalated.
The president announced that it looked like war was imminent. Troops were ready to engage. The battle was about to begin.
One day I arrived at work to see terrifying night-time pictures flashing across the national news with bomb after bomb and explosion after explosion….
….a half a world away.
The fighting had begun.
I stood silently in that newspaper office as my world crumbled around me.
I was here and he was there and the sheer helplessness of the situation overwhelmed me.
I wanted to talk to him. I wanted him to tell me it would be okay. I wanted him to reassure me that he was safe. I wanted to know that he was alright and that he was coming home and that he was going to sail back into the harbor on a sunny day wearing his dress whites saluting proudly on the deck of that ship….
….and that all was right with the world.
But it wasn’t.
And I felt my heart crack in two.
At that moment, I heard my name over the loud speaker. It was the publisher’s office calling. “KariAnne, please report to the office,” they said. “You have a call from a Navy officer.”
From an officer?
I didn’t want a call.
Not even a little.
All the calls I had ever seen in the movies from officers during wartime never ended well.
I entered the office and took the phone and faintly whispered smallest tiniest hello that sounded like a cross between a mumble and a squeak.
“Mrs. Wood? This is a ship-to-shore call. We have your husband on the line. Please be aware that all conversations on this call will be repeated several times to transfer information to the ship. Please begin when you are ready,” the voice boomed over the line.
I didn’t understand.
A ship-to-shore call?
I didn’t know what to say, so I began with “Hello again.”
And then I heard it—across the miles of land and ocean—the hello repeated from military personnel to military personnel over and over and over again.
“Hello again.” “Hello again.” “Hello again.” “Hello again.”
Until it reached my husband half a world away.
And then the message came back from that sailor across those ocean miles. “Hi, cutie…..I’m fine.” “Hi, cutie…..I’m fine.” “Hi, cutie…..I’m fine.” “Hi, cutie…..I’m fine.”
He was fine?
He was okay?
He was safe?
I screamed and giggled and spun around and the heavens parted and I heard the hallelujah chorus. And then I shouted into the phone with all of the joy and exuberance and adoration I could muster…….”I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE YOOOOOOOU.”
Except I forgot.
Because the “I love you” didn’t end there.
It wasn’t just between us.
There were five people listening on the call.
And so it ended up sounding a little like this….. “I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE YOOOOOOOU.” “I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE YOOOOOOOU.” “I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE YOOOOOOOU.”
….”I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE YOOOOOOOU.”
I could hear the smiles in the voices of each of those veteran military personnel from one end of the earth to the other.
And each of them said it with all the joy that my “I love you” was intended to convey.
In the end, I didn’t care if the world was listening.
Because that sailor with the twinkling eyes didn’t miss a word. He heard it all.
And he knew that I adored him.
And would be waiting for the day he returned.
He laughed out loud when he heard it and sent his own message back.
Winging its way across that ship to the shoreline with the static and the beeps and the blips via half a dozen scratchy military personnel’s voices….
.….came the sweetest “I love you” I ever heard. 🙂
PS I’ve told this story to our kids and they were confused.
Why didn’t I just call him on my cell phone? 🙂