May 20, 2011
By Jacey Eckhart
They wore yellow ribbons. When I skipped up to the international arrivals gate for my husband’s seventh homecoming, I spotted this pair wearing yellow satin ribbons around their waists. So I just had to stand next to them.
“Are you waiting for someone to come home from deployment?” I asked, certain that anyone who wears yellow satin ribbon in public wants to be asked about it.
“My wife,” the man answered. “She is a contractor. She is coming home from Baghdad.
“Has she been there long?”
“Since November,” he answered.
“Me, too,” I said. “My husband has been deployed since November, too.”
We compared notes about how long it takes for those months to pass, about the bleakness of Christmas, about the sudden tumble and skid with which deployment ends. It was good to teeter on my high red heels, scanning the oncoming passengers, sharing excitement with strangers who knew just how I felt. While we waited the man told me how he and his wife had both been in the Army for 20 years. How they had both been in the first Gulf War. Then he said, “We are both Medal of Honor winners. Both of us. Me and my wife.”
The daughter looked anxiously into his face then. And that’s when the fun stopped. That’s when I edged away. Yes, their excitement was real. Yes, the man and his wife probably had served. But that claim to Medal of Honor standing was a boldface lie. There are no Medal of Honor winners from the first Gulf War. There was only one Medal of Honor awarded to a living person since Vietnam. No woman has won the Medal of Honor since the Civil War.
So why lie?
I mean, most of us lie from time to time, little lies and big lies. I lied to my nine year old just that morning that the talking kitty app his sister has on her iPhone is sold out. And lying about military service particularly as it applies to the Medal of Honor is the kind of outrageous criminal behavior that gets a lot of attention around Memorial Day. Still, I got to thinking-- why did this guy, like so many who actually did serve in the military, need to lie? Why wasn’t it enough just to have made it through months of separation? Or years of military service? Where do we get the idea that “normal” military service—the kind you do day in and day out without getting shot or blowing up anything or wearing a sword—isn’t enough to remember as a worthy use of your life?
The truth is that you stepped up. Where I couldn’t imagine myself even kissing my mama goodbye at 18, you imagined yourself in combat boots, running up a mountain, crossing a desert mined with IEDs while some really, really mean guy screamed at you. Mean guys make me cry. That’s why day in and day out, that was you reporting for the kind of duty that makes our military work. Maybe you were one of those amazing Navy SEALs that did half a dozen tours in the Middle East before killing Osama bin Laden. Maybe you really are a Navy Cross winner who dragged people to safety and slayed the enemy. But maybe all you did last month was to guard a gate, a barracks, an office building. Maybe you dealt with more paper than weapons. Maybe this is the year you gave up the plane to fly a desk. Or took off your uniform forever.
Granted, that isn’t the stuff of which CNN is made. Sylvester Stallone will not play you on TV. There won’t be a crowd at the White House hootin’ and hollerin’ about what your unit accomplished. But, really, the hootin’ and hollerin’ isn’t what it is all about. Not to me, anyway. To me the day that 18 year old you was brave enough to step up, to take on the impossible in all its many forms, that is a day of valor surely. There is no need to make up a story to tell me. I got that when I heard you say, “I served.”
And for that I am truly grateful.