Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day and Influence

Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, is celebrated on November 11 because that’s when the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end the First World War. Unlike Memorial Day, which honors those who have died in service to this country, Veterans Day honors all military personnel, living and dead.

Since today is Veterans’ Day, it seems appropriate to write about my father, a Korean War vet. Thankfully during his military service, he was a supply sergeant—a job that kept him far enough away from the front that he could return without the physical or emotional trauma faced by so many others.

After the war, he married my mother, started the family I was to become a part of and went into sales to support the five of us.

Traveling was a part of his job for as long as I can remember. His territory changed and expanded as he moved up the corporate ladder and we moved from city to city. But the job still called for many nights away from his family and on the road.

When my father returned from his sales trips, he often had stories about people he met while on the road. Eating alone in a restaurant night after night was not his idea of fun, so he sometimes found other traveling salesmen (and they were all men at that time) to converse with over dinner. By sharing their stories with us, we learned about interesting products, new industries, different parts of the country and so much more.

Looking back at that simple act of sharing knowledge, I realize what an impact it’s had on my life. I seem to have an insatiable curiosity about most everything. Even things that aren’t inherently interesting—Velcro for example—can be fascinating when you start to learn more. (Case in point: After a hunting trip in 1948, George de Mestral removed the burrs that stuck to his pants and looked at them under a microscope. He observed little hooks on the burrs that grabbed onto the loops of the fabric. Shortly thereafter, Velcro was born.)

You may notice from my tidbits each week and even the content of some of my posts that I have fairly wide-ranging interests. I thank my father in part for this.

I feel my father’s influence as well when I talk to people I don’t know at parties, weddings, bars, on airplanes (sometimes) and at other places where we share time together. I believe most everyone has an interesting story to tell if you ask the right questions and take the time to listen. Engaging strangers in conversation often rewards me with good stories—or at least pleasant interactions with my fellow humans.

I’m sure as my father was relaying the lives of the people he met all those years ago, he had no idea of the effect he was having on his family. He was just being himself, talking about what he found to be interesting.

When you think about it, that’s often how we pass on habits, traditions, traits, and everything else we do that inspires or motivates someone else. It’s the small things—the unheralded moments—where we show the true nature of ourselves that often have the greatest impact.

For that, and thousands of other reasons, I will be eternally grateful that I get to celebrate my father on Veterans Day instead of Memorial Day. I only wish so many others could have been that fortunate.


  1. Great words about a great man who has gently and poignantly touched the lives of many people, including me.