Armed Forces Day recognizes all of those serving in the military. It is followed closely by Memorial Day, a day to remember those members of the military who gave their lives in battle.
In the coming days, there will be numerous tributes to those who served, who currently are serving and who made the ultimate sacrifice.
This tribute, however, is to honor another group of people – those who wait: the wives, the children, the parents, the siblings and now more and more, the husbands.
Those who have not had a close loved one serve in the military, especially in combat, cannot comprehend the lives of the spouses and children. As fewer and fewer people choose not to join the military, they become further and further detached from the challenges faced by military families.
Yes, military families see the world. They travel together to foreign lands which they had only read about but had not dreamed of living in. They experience different cultures and learn new languages. They make new friends, all the while knowing they will leave that place for a new one in about three years.
That “foreign” land may be New York for a couple who grew up in Louisiana. And the reverse may be equally true. Whether it be unfathomable traffic jams and weird accents, or alligators in the bayou and people who naturally talk slow, there are new cultures, new challenges, new adventures.
Not to disparage the roles of current husbands of military women, but this column’s focus is on the wives of service members.
It is those wives who take on a burden that many had not planned on. In the case of our family, over the course of 26 years, we lived in 18 houses, some temporary apartments, others permanent abodes and one campground. Those are common situations for military families.
The military man often begins his new duties before dawn of the first day he reports and ends it often after dark. Thus the burden of establishing a new life in a new place falls squarely on the shoulders of the wife.
It is the wife who meets the moving van with the furniture, typically to find something has been lost or broken. It is the wife who takes the kids to buy heavy jackets, scarves, wool hats and snow boots when arriving in New York from Hawaii where shorts and flip flops were the norm.
It is the wife who enrolls the kids in schools and who answers the phone call to come to the principal’s office to bail someone out of detention. She is also the one who will attend most parent-teacher conferences.
It is she who helps the children with homework when the husband is suddenly who knows where because of a no-notice exercise. Or, in the case of a close friend, she gets a phone call from the west coast to notify her on the east coast that he is headed to a place called Vietnam and he will see her in a year.
It is the wife who gets the car inspected, pays the bills, takes the children to dental appointments and athletic physicals and has to scramble to find someone to watch the younger kids when the school calls and says Johnny or Susie just threw up.
It is the wife who daily writes her husband in combat zones before the era of Skype and internet. It is the wife who treasures the hand-written letters that have “free” stamped where the postage would be and sees and feels the dried mud on the envelope.
It is the wife who becomes a roaring lioness when she finds a neighbor kid reading a letter from her husband that the kid had swiped from the mail box. She is not someone you would want to meet, even in a lighted alley.
It is the wife who has heard the stories of taxi drivers delivering death notifications after the battle of the Ia Drang Valley. It is the wife who tries to comfort a friend whose husband has been killed. It is the wife who does not sleep through 365 nights for fear that she will wake up with a soldier in dress uniform and a chaplain by his side knocking on the front door.
No family support group or fellow spouse can prepare her for that moment. The day that she does not hear that knock is one more day to check off a calendar. But the next day brings the same fears and the same pleas to God to let her husband not be killed.
So, sometime between Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day, think about the military families. Pray for them. And pray for all of those serving our country in uniform. God bless military families.
Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.