Someone’s Baby in the Battle

Written by: Amy Allender
This framed photo of my grandfather hangs in the guest room of my parents’ home. Amy Allender photo

There are many tipping points in life. The one I’ve most recently reached is that funny point when youth doesn’t seem all that long ago, but upon looking at a teenager, you can’t help think, “What a baby.” Maybe you can relate.
This is a strange thing to reflect upon for Veteran’s Day, but this is the exact thought I had recently when I looked at a photo of my grandfather in his army uniform.

It’s a photo I’ve seen many times before. But now, as a mother, I view it differently, searching the photo for a genetic resemblance to my own children. They’ll never know their great-grandfather, but they see him in photos. They hear stories. For most of my life this photo was just that, a photo. But now, as I look at it all I can think is, “What a baby.”

For much of my life, the word “soldier” implied someone very grown-up. They were men and women, far older than me, doing things that took far more courage than I could imagine. I was a child, unwittingly living in the peace and security hard-fought, and intentionally protected by generations of service members, past and present. My days reaped the benefits of the effort they’d put forth, and the atrocities they’d faced, but I was unable to truly wrap my head around what being in the military—or fighting a war—actually entailed.

At 23, I remember being dumbstruck when I realized I was years older than my father had been when he served during the Vietnam War. Twenty-three was older than my grandfathers and great-grandfathers had been when they had served in World War II, World War I, and the American Revolution. Suddenly soldiers didn’t seem like far off grown-ups. They seemed like peers. That hits differently.

Now, as I creep close to 40, I look at images of these men in uniform and see them as utterly young. When I look at those photos, I think of my own sons and what it would be like to watch them leave for conflict. I wish I would have asked my grandmother how her heart withstood watching my dad enlist and leave. He was her baby, after all.

This new tipping point has impacted my view of veterans. Yes, it’s those who go, it’s those who enlist—they deserve intentional gratitude every day of the year. But it’s also generations of parents who have watched their baby go off to war. It’s families setting aside the desire to protect their own, in favor of protecting our way of life. It’s spouses who keep home-life intact when a service member works late, deploys, or moves to a new duty station.

Freedom has a way of quietly ticking away in the background of life. Comforting, constant—often unnoticed or taken for granted. The older I get, the louder it seems. America’s legacy of veterans is built on a web of individuals willing to sacrifice their entitlement to freedom in order to ensure it for others. It’s built on the courage of those who go, and the loving support of those who watch them leave.

I have no war story of my own. I cannot relay valiant tales told to me by my forefathers. They were rather quiet about what they saw and experienced. I can only tell you that I will do my best to ensure that Veteran’s Day doesn’t turn into a silent holiday in my home, but rather something that is noticed, discussed, and celebrated. We can all do our best to train our children to notice the comforting tick, tick, tick of freedom running smoothly in the background—and ensure they know it didn’t get there by chance.

We can acknowledge the legacy of those that have come before us. We can remember that those who serve aren’t far-off grown-ups, but rather someone’s baby. We can appreciate those who serve, and those who stand behind and encourage them to do so.

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