A roundabout way of saying thank you

Laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Armistice Day, 1923. November 11 was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

Laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery on Armistice Day, 1923. November 11 was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

In the USA, Veterans Day is a chance to thank past and present members of the armed forces for their service to their country. It’s also an opportunity to recognize the veterans in one’s own family.

I have uncles who served in the military, but I don’t know much about when or where. I’m pretty sure my mother’s father was in the army, but I know nothing about his time there, and I can’t even really prove it.

The relative about whose army service I have the most knowledge is my father’s father. Yet, it would be somewhat awkward to thank him for fighting for American rights and freedoms; he was in the German Army.

My eldest son is fascinated by the fact that his great-grandfather was in the German Army. I’m not sure how his great-grandfather felt about it. When Kaiser Wilhelm’s men informed him that he was to be a soldier, I imagine him pointing out that there were millions of men to fight in France, but not nearly as many to milk his father’s cows. Nonetheless, he became a soldier.

After WWI, my grandfather emigrated to America. If I can’t thank him for his military service, I can thank him for this. It led to a much greater chance of me being born. And it led to me being an American.

My wife thinks I am a quintessential German, in my constant quest for order and efficiency, and my reticence toward hugging. Maybe that makes me the typical German-American, but I doubt I’d make a good German-German. For one thing, I don’t know if they get ESPN or the Big Ten Network in Germany. Soccer is fine, every four years, but I think Germans are expected to watch it more frequently.

I first began to suspect that I would never be a real German in my youthful travels, when I stayed at some youth hostels. It seems like there are always Germans at youth hostels. You can pick them out because they are the ones who enjoy staying at youth hostels.

To me, no arrangement could be more unpleasant than sleeping in a single room with 14 strangers and the residual grime of thousands more. The mere exhaust was enough to make me gag. Though I welcomed the chance to catch a glimpse of topless European girls sauntering through the halls, the communal aspect of everything made even that prospect not worth it.

I’m proud of my German heritage, but I am a rugged individualist American, only more squishy than rugged since my childhood on the farm. The lack of cows kicking you in the head will soften your rugged edges over time. I may still hug like a German, but I am truly American.

As an American, I join many millions of other grateful Americans in saying: to all the people, past and present, who have used your lives to serve and safeguard your country, Thank You. Happy Veterans Day.