You Don’t Need to Wear a Uniform to Honor Those Who Did — Memorial Day
It was just about a year and a half ago that I had the opportunity to meet Col. Michael Hilliard from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Now retired, Hilliard was at the time the chief of the only Level I trauma center in the United States military and he gave me a gift I won't soon forget.
When we finished our interview, Col. Hilliard gave me a challenge coin. A sign of respect among members of the armed forces, this was my first challenge coin I'd ever gotten and the first person I wanted to show it to was my grandpa Sid.
In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor my grandfather, like countless others in his generation, was drafted into the Army. Now, just a few weeks from his 93rd birthday, his story continues to inspire me through my life, personally and professionally. He's also a good reminder for those who never served to always remember those who did, whether they are alive or dead.
As a college student studying business and accounting, the Army in its enduring wisdom decided he was the perfect candidate to be a medic serving on the front lines. He doesn't talk a lot about the war, but he shares stories here and there.
He talks about how while serving on kitchen patrol during the boat trip to Normandy, the head of the kitchen gave him a bag full of food to bring with him when he had made it safely to shore. He also tells how the landing craft missed its destination and instead of landing on a sandbar, sank to the bottom of the ocean. The bag ripped, leaving a trail of food as he made his way onto the beach.
During his time in the Army, he served in the Battle of the Bulge and, as the only Jewish member of his unit, celebrated a Sabbath service in what was the first Jewish service broadcast from Germany since Hitler came to power. Now, he's proud to sit back and see his kids, grand kids, and great-grand kids grow up.
I think it's the fact that he was a medic in the Army that has always stood out for me. Having no medical training whatsoever, he was charged with helping the wounded get the help they needed so they could also get back to their family.
A few years ago I had the honor of meeting Capt. Brian Brennan. As a lieutenant in the Army, Brennan was seriously injured by an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan. Coming back to Howell as a double amputee, it would have been impressive enough if he had focused only on his own recovery. Instead, he started the Brennan Stands Alone Foundation to help other veterans wounded in combat to give them the same kind of support he had received.
When I met Capt. Brennan it was at a fundraiser for the foundation where the nurse who treated him was the guest of honor. Brennan's mother said Capt. Robert Charles was her hero. Many of the people Brennan's foundation helped had physical ailments to overcome. That was not the case for Capt. Robert Charles, who stayed by the side of Brennan and countless others, coming home with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hearing his story, and hearing the mother of one of our brave servicemen call him a hero, only reinforced for me the special bond shared by those in the military and the importance of the people who serve the soldiers as they fight on the front lines.
It's also why when I had the chance to go to places like Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, I jumped at the opportunity. The work they do to help people now and to develop technology for the future is simply incredible.
Whether it is developing the latest technology in prosthetics, or the latest treatment for kidney disease and cancer, these cutting-edge hospitals continue to make major contributions to the civilian and medical fields.
The closest I ever came to serving in uniform was as a Cub Scout, and I'm glad I never had to see the kinds of things my grandfather did on the battlefield. It's also my enduring hope that my daughter and future generations never have to see the likes of those things either.
But on Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, and every other day in between, the challenge coin that I keep in my wallet is a constant reminder to be thankful for the men and women who have served, serve today, and will serve in the future.