A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle
When my friend, Gary Tedder asked me to give a presentation on what it means to me to be a military veteran I was caught off guard. No one has ever asked me about that. And now 30 years after having left the military it’s just not a part of what I do or how I live from day to day. Which means that I just hadn’t thought about that particular question in those particular terms.
But sit to think about it I did. And it didn’t take long after I sat down for me to realize that what we do as veterans is we live our lives… and we remember. We remember… and we live our lives.
On Veterans’ Day in 2019 I was on a layover in Palm Springs. I’d never been there before in my life, so I had no idea where to get breakfast. Of course, like any good baby boomer, I asked “the google.” And “the google” suggested I try out a place called “Pinochio In the Desert.”
As I walked the few blocks to Pinochio’s, I was feeling particularly grateful to be an airline pilot. The skies were clear and blue in the Palm Desert, and the air was a balmy 78 degrees. At the same time, my family and friends in Denver were dealing with the fifth snow event of the year.
The restaurant was open to the air, and I was seated along a rail at the front of the dining room. The sidewalk was just on the other side of the rail, so I was in a great place to watch the patriots of Palm Springs walking up and down the street in their red, white, and blue regalia, and all the American flags waving over the store fronts. And from my corner of the restaurant I could watch the patrons coming and going, and the wait staff as they went from table to table, doing their thing.
In this particular restaurant the servers wore black. Except for one guy who was wearing a white t-shirt. There was an American flag on the front of the shirt, with the words, “United We Stand, 9/1/2001.”
If you were alive and old enough to notice statement t-shirts in the fall of 2001 you remember that shirt. It was everywhere. But as I sat in that restaurant I hadn’t seen one for a long, long time. Not only had I not seen one being worn, but I hadn’t even seen one for sale anywhere in decades.
The server with the t-shirt was not my server. But I had noticed the shirt, and I casually kept an eye on him as he moved around the room. And it gradually dawned on me that his t-shirt was really white! Which was remarkable, because I had to think it was maybe 18 years old. And I know what my white t-shirts look like after just a few washings – they don’t stay particularly white for very long. But this server’s t-shirt looked like it was new.
So I finished my breakfast and paid the tab. But as I was leaving, I felt compelled to introduce myself and ask the server about his shirt.
He explained that, “no, the t-shirt is not new. In fact, you’re right, it is actually 18 years old. But I only wear it twice a year: on Veterans Day, and again on Memorial Day. And in the days in between, it stays folded neatly in a drawer, and I live my life.”
“And on the days that I wear it, it helps me, and those around me, to remember.”
A few days later, as I sat wondering what in the world I could bring to my friend Gary and his “Cor2Cor Net-giving Group” in Denver, I thought about my new friend, Robert, the server, and I recognized that he is a perfect picture for what it means, at least to me, to be a veteran.
I didn’t ask him – I wish I had – if he’d worn the military uniform. But it became obvious to me that he has worn his love of our country every six months for the last 18 years. He lives his life, then he stops to look back and remember. He remembers, then he looks forward, and lives his life.
In my own case, I had the honor and privilege of wearing the uniform of our country. It shaped who I am today. Now as a veteran all these years later, I live my life from day to day. And every once-in-a-while something takes me back to that time, and I stop to remember. Having remembered then, I look forward, and live my life.
Veterans Day is one of those somethings. It gives us all a reason to stop. Look back. And remember. With gratitude for the sacrifices that have made today’s lives possible. And then, having remembered, we can look forward and live our lives.
There is a scene at the end of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” where one of the heroes, who is dying of his wounds, looks to a very young Ryan, and says, “Earn this.” I think of that scene on days like Veterans Day. And I pledge again to myself and all those veterans who have sacrificed on my behalf, that I will live a life worthy of their sacrifices.
November 11th is Veterans Day. Let’s stop, and remember. And beginning again on November 12th, let’s live our lives.
Thanks for reading.
Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today at 720.840.8361 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
3 thoughts on “Captain’s Log: What It Means To Be a Veteran”
I loved the Saving Private Ryan’s reference… I feel our existence in this earth deserves the same attitude: “Earn this!” … I try to remember that as much as I can… day-to-day. Much wisdom is required, however, to understand what “earning it” entails!
Very well written – and it touched my heart. Best wishes to the family – especially Judy Hockenhull from her aunty Lis in Denmark.
Thanks, Aunty Lis! I enjoy seeing you on FB. Judi speaks often of you, and fondly!