On this Independence Day all across the country, patriotic music is being played, parades march down Main Street USA, speeches are given, and small flags stand silent sentry on military graves, as we pause to honor those courageous patriots who founded our country. Today we also honor the brave men and women who are putting their lives on the line every day, here and abroad, to protect our freedom and independence.
But there is one more group, often overlooked on patriotic holidays -- they are the children of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines. We call them "military brats" -- they are the sons and daughters of warriors.
There are millions of military brats today -- from the tiniest tykes whose dads and moms are serving overseas in Iraq or other hot spots, as well as at military bases here in the U.S. -- to middle-aged Baby Boomers whose dads (and a few moms in those days) fought in WW II, the Korean War, and of course, the Viet Nam War. These military brats were drafted at birth -- they had no choice about whether or not they wanted to live a military lifestyle. And they, like their warrior fathers and mothers, have paid an enormous price to protect the freedoms and privileges that most of us take for granted.
I am one of those military brats. I was born in Orange, California, on the Fourth of July -- a auspicious birthday for a military kid. Mom and I sailed to Japan when I was nine months old to join my dad, who was fighting overseas. I didn't see U.S. soil again until I was almost three years old.
Gallagher family, Tachikawa, Japan, 1952
I spent my formative years moving from base to base -- from Texas to Montana, from California to Virginia, from Germany to Illinois, from Dover to Puerto Rico. I was at home nowhere -- and I was at home everywhere. I learned to make friends quickly, because I knew I would lose them quickly. We were like traveling gypsies, moving from place to place, packing and unpacking... only to do it all over again six months or two years later.
Such a lifestyle has its advantages, of course. I was able to see the world, live in Europe, learn a foreign language at an early age, taste exotic foods and see interesting places that many people only dream of. I had exciting adventures and enjoyed wonderful experiences -- all courtesy of the U.S. government.
But there was a price I paid, too -- like all military brats. Loneliness, wrenching departures from beloved friends, having to change school umpteen times, and sometimes living in places I didn't like.
The biggest price I paid, along with the other kids, was enormous anxiety. For you see, Death was always lurking around in the background... but no one ever talked about it. For when you are the child of a warrior, you never know for sure when your daddy (or mommy) is going to be called to fight a battle somewhere... or who might be killed in training exercises or plane crashes, even in peacetime.
My dad was a pilot in the Air Force, and I can't tell you the number of times I lay in my bed at night, overhearing my mom on the phone in the other room, as she called the control tower to ask what Major Gallagher's ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) was. I worried, What if my daddy doesn't come home? What if his plane crashes? When I was eight years old my best friend lost her daddy when his plane crashed into the side of a mountain -- and it wasn't even a war. I knew if it happened to her, it could happen to me, too. It could happen to any of us military brats. We all grow up with a fundamental awareness of the precariousness of life... fearing that our warrior dads and moms could be killed anytime, anywhere.
So this Fourth of July, let us honor not only our founders who declared our independence -- let us also honor the brave men and women who dedicate their lives to protecting our independence. And let us not overlook the brave boys and girls who die a thousand little deaths waiting for their daddies and mommies to come home every night. Military brats serve their country, too -- they pay a price for our freedom. They are the littlest patriots. Remember them. Thank them. Hug them.
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