On November 11, 2010 Oakland County government was closed in honor of Veterans Day. I stopped by the county office to handle a few minor projects and then went to lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in Auburn Hills. I was first to arrive and took a booth to wait for my friends to join me.
One of the waitresses approached me and said, “You’re not wearing a suit today?” I said, “No. Today is a holiday and my offices are closed – it’s Veterans Day.”
The waitress then innocently asked, “Are you a veteran?” And I answered that I was, having spent my two years in the U.S. Army back in the ‘60’s. But then something unexpected and very pleasant happened that put a huge lump in my throat. The waitress turned to me and extended her hand and said, “Thank you for your service to our country,” as we shook hands.
I sat there in silence as the waitress went about her business and thought wow, it’s been over 40 years since I did my stint in the Army and that was the first time anybody had ever said “thank you.”
When I joined the Army, I did it because it was the right thing to do. I was young and fervently patriotic. Today I am a little older and still fervently patriotic. I didn’t join the Army so someone four and half decades later would say thank you for my service to our country. But when it happened, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.
I thought about the conversation during the following days and concluded that the only reason the conversation got around to my time in service was that I was wearing casual clothes on a normal work day. There were probably a lot of vets in that restaurant, or restaurants across Oakland County, for that matter across Michigan and the United States, who in their own way celebrated Armistice Day (now called Veterans Day) on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11:00 a.m. when World War I in Europe ended.
I’m sure that those other guys and gals who spent time in the various branches of the military would appreciate a similar experience as I enjoyed so I’ve decided to create a button that I hope veterans will wear every November 11 that simply says “Proud to be a Vet.” (While I was at it, I created an additional button: “Hug a Vet.”)
I’m in the process of contacting every veteran’s organization in Michigan to make these buttons available across the state. I hope that the men and women who served their country come this November 11, 2011, might likewise hear a “thank you” and experience the inevitable lump in the throat.
Pass this on to a vet.
L. Brooks Patterson
Oakland County Executive