A Veterans Day lesson — everyday — from her dad
My dad is a veteran.
Ed Conchas Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager in 1966 and served on the repair ship USS Jason during the Vietnam War. He spent most of his career as a recruiter in South Texas and retired a master chief petty officer after 28 years of service. He proudly put a decal bearing the seal of the U.S. Navy on every one of the five pickups he has driven over the course of my lifetime.
But he didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the military. Unlike many military families, we didn’t move around. He did, however, spend every day being in the Navy — and being my daddy.
When I was a little girl, I watched him shine his shoes and the pieces of brass he wore on his uniform to perfection after dinner while we watched baseball on TV. The creases in his uniforms, pressed by my mom, were equally perfect, and when he headed off to work at the recruiting station, he appeared flawless.
The president was his boss and he was representing America, so nothing less was appropriate; it wasn’t a regular khakis-and-oxfords or jeans-and-flannel job.
As I got older, I spent a few Saturday afternoons waiting in U.S. government-issued metal chairs near his desk while he put in extra hours. I drew pictures on notepads while waiting for him to finish paperwork that would bring recruits to San Antonio.
Later, I watched him leave before dawn and come home after dark to make up for the times during the year when he coached my CYO softball team, learning the NATO phonetic alphabet while eavesdropping on phone conversations he had from our kitchen’s harvest-gold slimline phone.
When I got my first job, he gave me advice about treating every job as a duty; he passed this advice on to all my cousins and friends. He taught us to vote, be respectful of our country and of other Americans charged with our overall safety. He took what he learned in the rigor of military life and, without making it into a caricature, showed us ways that such a philosophy could benefit us all just like it transformed the lives of the young men and women he was helping enlist.
And it wasn’t until I was an adult that it occurred to me to ask about why he joined the military in the first place. That’s when he told me about having left Laredo, shortly after his high school graduation, for boot camp. It was when he told me that having served in the Navy changed the future for him and, in turn, for me.
My dad’s life has been shaped largely by what he learned in the military. For him, being in the military was a lifelong devotion, and so many things about that made my life and the lives of those around him better.
Sure, he hates seafood because the smell of fish reminds him of a particularly nasty clean-up job he had aboard a ship. He tells his granddaughter little things about the Navy, such as how sailors will shout “make a hole!” upon seeing an officer so the others will get out of the way. And he wears caps that let the world know that even though the only time he’s been on the open sea lately is on a cruise with the Mrs., he will always be a sailor.
But that’s just little pieces of a much bigger story.
That’s the case for a lot of veterans, men and women whose lives have been shaped by our military. Today we salute them for their service; we thank them for the time they spent in uniform, and we appreciate what they’ve done for us when they changed into their civilian gear.
Today, we make a hole. Today, we make it big.