As a military reporter, and having done media relations for a veterans nonprofit, I expect to work this day. And honestly, I love it.
I spent today at various ceremonies around town, talking to veterans, families and young people who have a wonderfully grown up understanding of how important it is to honor service members, past and present.
So many think of cookouts and pool parties and the start of summer on Memorial Day, but it's a day specifically to honor those who have been killed in service to their country. Veterans Day is for the living, Memorial Day is for those we've lost.
It's a day that I spend thinking about one veteran in particular. Brig. Gen. Neil Smart was at the Battle of the Bulge.
I met him years ago at a MOAA meeting at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. I went to ask him a few questions after the meeting and at every meting after, he would demand that people make room for me to sit next to him. The state American Legion honored him later and after I wrote the story, he sent my publisher a lovely letter praising me and the photographer. I kept it pinned up on my desk and still have it. He was scheduled to go on Honor Flight in May 2008. He passed away just hours before the flight. I'd only known him a short time, but I was devastated.
He was a special man who had done extraordinary things during his military experience and his life. I was often amazed by his stories and more amazed that he took time to talk to me and write letters to my bosses about me. There are few experiences more humbling and gratifying.
Last week I went to D.C. with the Big Sky Honor Flight and spent most of the time talking to Billy Paul, a World War II veteran from Great Falls. I snapped that photo as we were loading the buses at Duller International Airport. I was reporting on the trip, but Billy will always be a special veteran to me. At the end of the trip, he thanked me for walking all over D.C. with him and helping him take photos and tackle stairs. I found myself sounding like the teenager BIlly talked to at the Lincoln Memorial: "It's no trouble, I haven't done anything really."
Service members are a special breed. I grew up in a military family. Many of my closest friends are in the military. My boyfriend currently serves in the military.
Perhaps it's because I grew up surrounded by the military that it holds a special place in my heart.
But, no matter what, they all deserve our thanks and our remembrance.
To the service members I know and those I don't, to those past and present, my sincere thanks.