A Normal Veterans Day
By Jack Mandaville
It’s 11:27 am on November 11th, Veterans Day, 2014. This has already been a weird day—one that has triggered a great amount of self-reflection for me—but not for the reasons you’d think.
I woke up at 5:45 in the morning. My goal this morning was to beat everyone to work. In my disheveled state, regardless of the fact that I work for Ranger Up and my primary job is to disseminate information as it pertains to military members and Veterans, I completely forgot that it was Veterans Day.
I was on my way to work by 6:15 am. A thought crossed my mind as I remembered that today was Veterans Day. I’ll go more into that later.
I arrived at the gas station down the street from the Ranger Up warehouse around 6:40 am. I bought a liter of water and a 20 oz. Dunkin Donuts coffee. I thought to myself, “Today is going to be a good day.”
6:45 am. I pulled into the Ranger Up parking lot with, coincidentally, Ice Cube’s Today Was A Good Day was playing in my car. I walked into the warehouse soon after.
I was excited because I was the first one at work. I made a stupid video in my solitude and posted it to Ranger Up’s Instagram page. Then I sat down at my desk to get some work started.
By 8:25 am I had gotten a lot accomplished and still had the entire place to myself. I was pumped because my early start was going to free me up to do other important things throughout the day with little stress. No barking from the dog. No smog. And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog. Yes, it was definitely gearing up to be a good day.
There was only one thing out of place about my morning: The fact that nobody was in the warehouse at 8:25 am. Even though Ranger Up’s business hours officially start at 9:00 am, we typically have people starting to filter in around 7:00 am.
That’s when my spidey senses started going off. I texted our warehouse manager Jorge Fernandez.
There you have it. My ass showed up to work when I didn’t have to. Now that I think of it, Ranger Up is the first job I’ve had in my adult life (including the Marine Corps) that has honored a day off for Veterans Day. But it completely slipped my mind leading into work.
I wasn’t even mad about the mix up. I was actually excited. I got on the phone with my girlfriend right away.
I wrapped up a few tasks around the office and headed for the diner and headed to a local diner to meet her before she had to start work at 11.
I got there around 9:45 am and the place was absolutely packed with geriatrics. Seriously, it looked like an entire retirement home had taken a shuttle to have their last meal before kicking the bucket.
My girlfriend walked in soon after.
“The lady said it was a 40 minute wait. We’ll be pushing it if you want to get to work on time. Let’s go somewhere else,” I said.
We hightailed it to a different place a few miles up the road. I was little upset that my plans were disrupted by the Cocoon gang, but whatevs.
We headed for the next place—hitting light after light on the way.
We pulled in around 10:05 am. Closed.
“Shit. Let’s go across the street to that other place,” I said. I was visibly irate at this point.
We arrived at the next place around 10:10 am. Closed.
That’s when I screamed, “Fuck this, let’s just go to Bruegger’s!”
Let me stop the story for a second. I know a lot of you may be thinking I was being a little biggity bitch for no reason. I don’t blame you. That’s some serious first world problem stuff I’m writing about. It wasn’t the end of the world. But there was a deeper reason for my frustration.
I really wasn’t that hungry to begin with. My longing to have a nice meal wasn’t because it’s Veterans Day and I wanted a free meal—I wasn’t sure if those establishments were even offering free meals, nor did I care.
The reason I wanted to sit down and have a meal with my girlfriend was because it was the most normal thing I could think of. It was a distraction from all the craziness of being a Veteran on Veterans Day. All I wanted to do was sit down, put my phone away for a few minutes, eat, and talk to the woman I love until she had to go to work and I was left to go sit my fatass on the couch and watch Netflix while writing this swill.
I’ve been out of the Marine Corps for 8 years now. Veterans Day is an evolving experience for me. Each year I’m forced to face changing opinions of myself and my service when Veterans Day arrives. This year, at 31 years old, I just wanted to enjoy a breakfast with someone who was just going to have a normal conversation with me on a normal day.
To me, that is the ultimate experience as an American Veteran. I feel like I’ve transitioned into the stage where the day quits being about my own past. It’s about what I’m doing now, who I’m with, and what the future holds. This is the life that Americans have romanticized in respect to the WWII generation. They came home, reentered the workplace, built new lives, and did it all while never forgetting (never forgetting is different than dwelling on) their past. This is what every GWOT Veteran deserves.
The very men I served with are living it. We were part of that early GWOT generation (’02 – ’06). These are guys barely clinging on to their twenties. They are family men now. They are settled into their careers. It didn’t happen overnight. They had to struggle for it—both in uniform and out of it. They’ve truly earned their peace and prosperity. At this point, the past isn’t something they dwell on. Wisdom and age will slowly erode that. But they will never forget their past. It has strengthened them professionally and personally.
That’s how I wanted to spend my Veterans Day. I wanted it to be a testament to how normal my life is now.
My girlfriend and I had our breakfast around 10:20 am and she got on the road soon after. We talked about going to see the new Dumb and Dumber To movie that’s coming out this weekend. It was an awesome conversation. Some real normal stuff.
And now, at 1:38 pm, I want to discuss the thought that ran through mind while I was on my way to work this morning. It was of an old friend.
His name was Kyle Burns. He was a pal from my first deployment in 2003. He died on November 11th, Veterans Day, 2004 in a murky alleyway in Fallujah, Iraq. He was just a kid. The men who were there with him that day were kids, too. So were the rest of us who weren’t with them on that day—the ones who came of age in the early years of the GWOT. Kyle’s physical presence is gone forever, as is the case with thousands of other heroic individuals. This thought angered me during past Veterans Days—the fact that he isn’t here to have the normal day that the rest of us are enjoying. This is the first year it hasn’t angered me. I don’t know why and I’m not going to overthink it.
I just know this: The heroes who gave their all will live forever in the hearts and memories of the abnormal people who went back to normal life.