Tuesday, March 1, 2011

15 Years Old

I met a man a few days ago who had to be in his 80s or 90s. He was wearing a hat that had a logo on it that read, "Veterans of Underage." I rarely miss an opportunity to thank military veterans when I see one. This day was no different. Assuming his hat meant he was one of those men who lied about his age when he signed up for military service, I asked him how old he was when he enlisted. He response floored me. "I was 15," he said.

Immediately my mind raced back to the days when I was 15. Days when you could find me hanging out with my friends. Days you would see me playing baseball, or football, or some game on Atari 2600. Yet, here was a man who suited up in military attire, took up arms and set out to free the world from madmen like Hitler and Mussolini. What a contrast!

I can't help but wonder what his mom thought the day he came home and told her he had enlisted. To be honest, its hard to imagine. For those of us born after that generation, I truly believe we have no clue. It was a different world then. A world in which boys didn't lose themselves in a virtual gaming world. No, this was the real deal. A world in which you didn't get unlimited lives. This was a world where the blood was real and the risk was high. This was a time when heroes weren't rock stars or athletes. It was a time when our heros where boys who were willing to preserve our freedom even if it meant losing their very lives.

I didn't have time to hear this man's whole story, but I'm sure he had one that would have kept me on the edge of my seat and brought me to tears. I struggle a bit when I see men like this because I know they won't be with us much longer. What a tragedy it will be, and how much poorer we will be when that generation is no longer with us.

I look around and I see a world consumed with this idea of entitlement. A world that's screaming for their rights and what they deserve. A world for the most part unwilling to make any sacrifice to preserve the freedoms and liberties we have. Of course, I'm not referring to our military men and women of today. They are a small remnant though in a world that's forgotten what it took to get where we are. Today if a 15 year-old boy or girl were to lie about their age and enlist, the military would have a lawsuit on their hands. Yep, times have changed.

I'm not advocating 15 year-olds in the military. I'm pretty sure you'll agree that the idea of today's 15 year olds in the military is quite a scary scenario. I'm thinking I wouldn't feel all that safe. At the same time, somehow, the idea of this gentleman I met being a defender of my freedom set me at ease. Perhaps, it was the gaze in his eye and the weathered skin that told the story of a man who had been to hell and back. I'm not sure. And perhaps, my view of this man at the age of 15 is way off. Still, somehow I know that even at 15 years old, I would sleep well knowing this man was defending my freedom.

At 15, I was shooting spit wads across the room, my mom had to wake me to get ready for school and I complained when I had to mow the yard. At 15, this man was dodging incoming shells and firing at the enemy. Indeed, times have changed. I'm just so thankful for all those "Veterans of Underage," and the parents who made those incredible sacrifices. Without those heroes, it is no doubt that my life at 15 years-old would have been much different.

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