Last Saturday it was Paul's memorial service. He was a veteran of World War II, an Army medic in India, China and Burma. He came back to become a Fuller brush man, then a sales rep for health and cosmetic products.
I could see Paul as the Fuller man going door-to-door. He had that infectious grin and offbeat humor to disarm any wary prospective customer. Impish 'til the day he died.
Yesterday it was George's service. He served as a submariner in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. Always smiling, always the most handsome man standing next to his charming wife at church, George was the most gracious and affirming veteran.
Even before 9/11 he urged me to apply for a Cold War recognition certificate. I should find that paperwork and finally do it some day.
Yesterday at his service, I learned that George was his middle name. I guess if I'd been named Caspar, I'd want to be known as George also. But who needed a name with a smile like his?
But something else occurred to me. I can still count on my eight fingers and two thumbs the number of people who have said "Thank you!" to me for my military service. Not that any of us really expected that to happen back when there was a military draft and service was mandatory--unless you were Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton or female.
The burden borne by Vietnam veterans sent into war at a time when America was at war with itself will never be fully known or repaired within their lifetimes. It carried over to those of us who served in the Vietnam era but in other parts of the world. To this day I have never framed my Honorable Discharge nor the recognition letter from President Nixon.
No one ever said to me the words "Thank you!" until the Veterans Day following 9/11. But even before 11/11/01, George gave me that smile, that recognition, that warm handshake that did all the things a word of thanks should do and more.
To me, he will always be George, the first to say "Thank you!" George The First.
Today I return the honor. Thank you, George, for your service and your life. And welcome home.
Peace be with your family. Amen.