Exactly a year ago, on Veterans’ Day, I had the honor of presenting my father with a Patriot Award for his work as a Veteran serving other Veterans.  It was a moment that still brings a tear to my eyes when I remember the look on my father’s face when he realized I was the one presenting him with the award (I flew in to surprise him).  It was a moment my family will never forget.

I have always been my father’s “mini-me.”  I look just like him, I act like him, I have his temper, and thankfully I have his courage and strength. 

When I graduated from high school at the age of seventeen, I made the decision that I wanted to go to college 3,000 miles away in Southern California.  I didn’t know anyone there.  All I knew was I wanted to follow my dreams.  It was one of the bravest things I have ever done.  I remember getting letters from my father (which I still have) where he told me how proud he was of me and how I reminded him of how he felt when he was drafted into the Army and sent off to Vietnam.  He knew it was something he had to do even though it was hard to be so far away from all his loved ones.  So in a weird way, I was following in his footsteps.

Ever since I was a young kid, I always looked up to my father.  He was my hero.  He wasn’t the best at the academics (that was what Mom was for) but he could fix anything.  I have always loved to go on jobs with my Dad, watching him intricately create a plumbing grid that never existed before he arrived or watch him repair something that others could not.  I have helped him dig basements, install garbage disposals, lay drywall, build a garage, roof a house, lay copper pipe, etc.  I have learned so many skills from my father that my guy friends envy.

But for me, the biggest life lesson my father has ever taught me was that if you give respect, you get respect and with that, you can make a difference in the world.  In our family, we feel that the active military and veterans deserve the greatest amount of respect.  Freedom isn’t free and our military, along with their families, make the greatest sacrifices to ensure that our freedoms remain intact.

My father inspired me to start Operation Easter Basket, an annual event where we send care packages to our service men and women.  I am a member of the Women’s Auxiliary for the VFW Menge Post where my grandfather was postmaster and my father is a lifetime member.  We accept donations and I knit scarves for our annual Veterans’ Council Stand Down, where Veterans help other Veterans in need.  Every year, the amount of homeless Veterans seeking assistance doubles.  And any time I come across a service man or woman in uniform, I walk up to them, shake their hand and tell them “Thank You.”  I do all of this because of my father and the values he bestowed upon me at a young age.  And as a teacher, I have the opportunity to bestow the same respect and values upon my students. 

So this Veterans’ Day, when we honor all the amazing men and women who have provided us with all of the freedoms we have (like the right to OCCUPY), I want to once again honor my father, a Vietnam Veteran who has inspired me to be the best person I can be.  Happy Veterans’ Day, Dad!!!