On a recent October morning, an hour or so before sunrise, I awakened to a rumbling noise that increased during a few seconds’ time to a loud roar. My first reaction: military planes; another attack! Jumping up and looking out the already open window, I saw only the stars, bright and shining in the clear night sky, and heard only the diminishing sound of whatever had been overhead as it moved westward across the Rockies.
I stood for several minutes, first experiencing that sick sensation I remembered from September 11 nine years ago, and then an unexplained, unusual calmness.
Later that day, as sunshine brightened the last of our fall gold, I questioned what had so effectively erased my feelings of alarm. The answer has everything to do with the national holiday we are observing today.
Our veterans understand what we civilians can only wonder about.
They place a higher value than the rest of us upon going to sleep at night and awakening each morning without fear. I doubt whether a day passes that our veterans do not think of the responsibility they once assumed.
On Nov. 11, we ask ourselves as a nation to pause, consider what they have given us, and to offer one day of recognition to those who have helped ensure the peacefulness and freedom we enjoy.
Most of the time we may not even realize that an acquaintance has once held a front-line post during wartime. However, where I live, we know our neighbors.
The former rancher and his wife who recently celebrated 60 years of marriage live with his memories of a place in Germany called Dachau, his unit having been among the first U.S. Army troops to penetrate that hellhole.
One of the people I usually see at the Post Office served in the Air Force during the Korean War. After completing that tour of duty and 36 more years with the National Security Agency, the pilot moved to Steamboat Springs with his wife. His deep-voiced hello never fails to prompt a smile.
At the library I share a table with a long-haired Marine who worked as radar technician in Vietnam. Yet another Marine who operated ground radar in the DMZ that separated North from South is among the first to call when a friend we both care about needs help.
Whether newcomers or from longtime Routt County families, veterans are part of my life.
Boys who grew up on ranches left for Vietnam. One, a Navy River Rat, pursued VCs; another worked as Army forward observer. They returned home to find their town had changed as much as they had. Now, some 30 years later, their children are stacking hay, not, as their fathers did, with horses, but with powerful Ford and New Holland tractors.
From a different kind of war and to a different welcome, the next generation of veterans returned. Kids I knew as school children when I moved to Routt County almost 30 years ago came home from Desert Storm, honored heroes in the parade down Lincoln Avenue. And the scrawny teenager who loaned amateur me his best fishing pole has served three tours in Iraq, a proud and brawny Marine.
“Do you appreciate how good we have it?” one old seaman remarked, when I spoke of my reaction to the unexpected roar of planes overhead. “All of us, here in America, Colorado, Routt County . . . “
He didn’t have to say more. I felt again that unexplained calmness I had experienced at my open window a few nights earlier.
Today is Veterans Day. Let us join in saying “thank you.”
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982.