Duty and Honor

I was scheduled for jury duty this morning. I’m one of those strange and wacky people who doesn’t mind my civic duty. I figure that what goes around comes around, and someday – Heaven forbid! – if I am accused of a crime, I’d want someone like me on a jury. Without people willing to inconvenience themselves periodically, our judicial system would crumble, and with it our society.

So, I found myself in a crowded jury room this morning, watching as the numbers appeared on the screen and listening to the announcements. When we were released at mid-day, there was a stampede for the doors and sighs of relief for those of us who were not called. Having been through this before, I just noted it as an event and left the building.

While I was downtown, however, I decided to indulge in a roasted eggplant sandwich at a little Italian deli that I used to frequent when I was a corporate soldier, so I began walking further into the downtown canyon to hunt down my lunch. As I walked, I heard some drums and saw some street blockades and uniformed people. “Ah, Veteran’s Day parade!” I thought to myself. Not being much of a parade watcher generally, I thought that I would get my sandwich and watch the parade, and show our vets how much I appreciated them before heading back to work.

I bought my lunch and found a spot on the parade route. I looked at the people around me, waiting for the parade to start. Across the street was what appeared to be a Mexican family, consisting of a grandmother, her son, her grandson, and a little boy, who must have been her great-grandson. I saw an Indian (as in the country India) mother and adult daughter. I had followed a group of Middle Eastern men to the parade route. There were several Anglo families with small children, clutching flags. Near me were three vets – an African-American (in fatigues), a Latino, and an Asian man (Korean?). I was surrounded by people of all nationalities, genders, and ages. A golf cart came down the street and handed out flags. The father of the small Mexican boy got several, and each member of his received their very own flag. The little boy was jumping and waving his in the air. I bought a flag for a little girl who was with her mother in front of me.

As I heard the bands begin to play, the excitement grew. I cried several times during the parade, watching the aged warriors standing in the back of the trucks, with ramrod straight backs and eyes that always looked forward. After all the years, they were still proud of their service. I was momentarily saddened by the sight of a single veteran, carrying the black POW/MIA flag. How many mothers and fathers are still missing sons and daughters? There were the usual units, and then the special groups came by – the Korean vets, the Chinese-American vets, the Vietnamese, and even one Native American, with his feathered headdress and carrying a military flag. Even the French were represented! The disabled women’s veterans came by, one in a wheelchair. Several other disabled veterans appeared, proudly pushing their chairs along, with flags and all. I clapped for every veteran that rolled or walked down that street. There Gold Star Moms and Blue Star Moms, and just Moms. I was honored to honor them.

As I watched these men – the ones in the parade and the ones on the curb, I thought back to my jury duty dismissal. I was ashamed of the people who had been so relieved to get out of the inconvenience of taking part in this great society for just a few days. I could only imagine what these veterans had endured so that we could all stand together, in a street, because we wanted to.

There’s a difference between duty and honor. At times they overlap, at times they don’t.

For those men and women in the parade today, it overlapped.

And I was honored to witness it.