|For Natalie Healy of Exeter, N.H., every day is Veterans Day since her son, Daniel Healy, was killed in Afghanistan. (JOHN BLANDING/GLOBE STAFF)|
Editor's note: Natalie Healy of Exeter, N.H., lost her son, Daniel R. Healy, 36, a senior chief petty officer for the Navy SEALs, on June 28, 2005, when the helicopter he was aboard crashed in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. She shares her thoughts this Veterans Day:
Growing up scarcely 10 years after World War II had ended, we youngsters saw daily evidence of what happens in war. On a street corner, a young man who had lost both legs sat on a wheeled platform barely 3 inches off the sidewalk and sold pencils for a living. It wasn't until years later that I understood the overwhelming loss he endured and how it changed the course of his life. He sacrificed his legs so that kids like me could hula hoop and rock 'n' roll without fear.
Back then, Veterans Day was marked for kids by a day off school and a parade. We were taught the history of the day, how World War I, the "War to End All Wars," ended on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. But over the years, with one thing after another affecting it, Veterans Day seemed to fade in significance. If holidays were colors, Veterans Day would be gray. Maybe because it's in the cold, gray month of November but, maybe, given the solemnity of the day, that's just how it should be.
Two years ago, life changed abruptly for my family when my son, Dan Healy, was shot down by the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan while on a rescue mission. He was halfway through his deployment when his helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and all on board were killed.
From that day forward, every day became Veterans Day for us. It was more than a gray, distant day to commemorate men who fought in a distant war.
Since then, the entire family has found ways to honor Danny. His children, Jake, Chelsea, Jazzi, and Sasha, do so by being respectful, generous individuals, doing well in school and keeping his memory alive. All are a credit to the love and devotion he had for them and he would surely be glowing with pride.
His "Irish twin" sister, Jennifer, has a singularly close relationship to Dan's children, as she did with Dan, and escorts them to events taking place in his memory. His other sister, Shannon, has spoken at various ceremonies honoring Dan and other veterans. We held a golf tournament to benefit his children and a student from his alma mater.
I do whatever I can to show support for the troops and their mission because I know how strongly Danny felt about the war. He knew the terrorists will do whatever is necessary to destroy us, because they hate the very thing that ironically is aiding them the most: our freedom.
It's a source of amazement and sadness to this Gold Star mother that this entire country isn't united in its anger and determination against people who have not only blown up innocent Americans but continue to blow up innocent women and children in their own regions.
A banner at Danny's memorial read "Home of the Free - Thanks to the Brave." That rather sums it up. I, and millions of other baby boomers, had a peaceful, safe childhood because of men like the pencil-seller and Dan. Recently a million people joyfully gathered to greet the World Series-winning Red Sox. Veterans bought days like that for us with their youth, limbs, and lives.
So, maybe Veterans Day isn't gray after all. Maybe,what it really is and should be for all of us is a Red Letter Day.
Marcus Luttrell tells the story of the attack that killed Healy and 10 other Navy SEALs in his book, "Lone Survivor."
Natalie Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.