Veterans Day isn’t just about veterans.
Siblings Daniel and Bethany Conley are students at Riverside Elementary. Daniel is in the fifth grade and Bethany in the second. Neither have to be told what Veterans Day is all about.
Their dad is Sgt. Jason Conley, who in January was deployed with the 573rd Air Cavalry of the U.S. Army’s famous 82nd Airborne Division to Iraq. Mom Jennifer had herself enlisted in the National Guard and was scheduled to start basic training in December. She stayed in Fayetteville (near Ft. Bragg, N.C., home of the 82nd) to pursue her schooling and prepare for basic while Jason was deployed. By happenstance, both maternal and paternal grandparents had migrated to Logan County – neither Jason nor Jennifer are from Logan County originally – so the kids moved to Ohio while Dad was overseas and Mom was hitting the books and doing push-ups to ready herself for boot camp.
Cell phones and the occasional Skype are great for chatting with Dad, but lousy for reading bedtime stories, helping with math homework, playing catch, or fixing a toasted cheese sandwich. All of this is impossible for Dad while he is wearing body armor outside of Baghdad and the kids are rooting for the Pirates in west central Ohio. Veterans Day isn’t just about the veterans.
The staff at Riverside knew about Sgt. Conley’s deployment. They had also heard that Conley was back on U.S. soil after 10 months in the Middle East. The kids knew this, too, but didn’t think they they would be seeing Mom and Dad for another week or so. But the Riverside staff had different plans. They set up a ruse for Daniel and Bethany. Knowing that other relatives from California were in Ohio to visit, the staff concocted a little story for the kids, telling them that they and their West Coast visitors were to be the guests of honor following the Veterans Day assembly.
They forgot to tell Daniel and Bethany about two more visitors from North Carolina.
While Daniel, Bethany and their visitors were sitting at the dais on the auditoria stage following the Veterans Day assembly, out from the wings popped Dad and Mom, to the complete surprise of Daniel and Bethany. The reunion was marked by smothering kisses, bear hugs, and dozens of sets of teary eyes, both on stage and around the auditoria.
Sgt. and Mrs. Conley are making arrangements to take the kids back to Fayetteville after the Thanksgiving holiday. A veteran with over six years in the Army, Sgt. Conley knows that he may again be deployed overseas, or may be transferred to another base, in which case be may again be separated from his family for an extended period of time. That’s what makes reunions such as what transpired at Riverside on Veterans Day so special. When Sgt. Conley first raised his right hand and swore an oath to defend his country and its Constitution, he knew that taking such a step would affect not only him but his family. Such are the sacrifices that those who serve and their families are obligated to make.
Veterans Day isn’t just about the veterans.