Today: Thank a Veteran

I am currently reading the book, Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis. The book was written by one of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis, Edgar Harrell, with the help of his son, David. I first heard this story told way back when I saw the movie Jaws on television in the mid-1980s (I was too young to see it when it came out in the theatre in 1976). The shark hunter, Quint, played beautifully by Robert Shaw, captivated the audience as he told the story of the boys on the USS Indianapolis who delivered “The Bomb” and were then torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine. They spent days awaiting rescue, being swarmed by sharks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. As Quint told the story, and for the purposes of the movie theme, the sharks were the biggest problem. But as I read this story through the eyes of a survivor, I am learning that there was a lot more to the story – A LOT!

As if being swarmed by sharks wasn’t bad enough, the response to the crew’s SOS was ignored. There was no rescue “on the way.” The details as to why are shady, but that was the case. Those who survived the initial torpedo blasts were covered with oil and grease from the vessel as they plummeted into the ocean. Because of this, some of them died of poisoning not too long after vomiting violently for hours as the destroyed ship went down. Many who were able to abandon ship didn’t even have time to secure a life jacket. Once in the water and there for days, dehydration, sunburn during the day, and hypothermia during the night all became life-threatening to those who were not already consumed by sharks. If not for a chance sighting by a military plane flying lower than usual to make a repair, those who were lucky enough to survive might never have been found. The descriptions are too much to share here, but detailed enough to make me find the need to write about my gratitude today.

  • My gratitude for these men – their willingness to put their lives in harm’s way to secure the safety and freedom of this nation and to liberate other nations of the world.
  • My gratitude for the fact that I have access to fresh water to drink, whenever I want it.
  • My gratitude for a soft bed at night, warm covers, and a roof over my head.
  • My gratitude for faith in God, a Power that proves the impossible to be possible over and over again.
  • My gratitude for the Power of prayer.
  • My gratitude for friendship, companionship, and community that sustains us when we are faced with difficult and life-altering situations.
  • My gratitude for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who was, is and always will be.

This past Saturday morning, I stood in the grocery line waiting longer than usual due to some technical problems with several of the store’s registers. Like most other people, I had my face down looking through my phone to pass the time. It wasn’t until the store manager came by to personally apologize to everyone in line for the delay that I looked up. As she moved to the person behind me, I heard his gracious response, “No rush for me today, just happy to be alive.” When I turned and looked at him, what I saw was a very tall and very old gentleman in full military uniform. I don’t know what branch, but a patch on his hat was inscribed with the word: Veteran. I felt like I was in a dream. Without even thinking, I just moved closer to him and asked if I could shake his hand. As he offered his hand, I smiled and said, “Thank you for my freedom.” His face lit up. I told him about the book I was reading and the fact that I just could not stop thinking about what those men went through. He went on to share a few stories of his own, as well as his gratitude for having had the experience of a life-long career in the military. The conversation made the remainder of our time in line fly by way too fast.

Later in the day, as I was taking a long walk, the thought came to me that maybe my friend in the grocery store line was put there for a reason. Maybe my reading of this story and the gratitude I have been feeling because of it needed to be shared with a military man. Maybe that particular military man needed to be thanked. Whatever the reason, I know my heart is bigger for having met him. I know my gratitude for living in a free country has been increased significantly because I have read this story. And, I know the next time I see a military man or woman, I am going to say “thank you” again and again and again. I hope you will do the same.

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