What does it mean to be a Veteran?

That is certainly a tough question to answer. The men and women who serve this country have often given everything they have to ensure that you and I remain free. Of course, even those that didn't pay the ultimate price, still sacrifice a part of themselves, especially in times of war.

My family has a rich history of men who have served.  In fact, my Great Grandfather served in World War I and then again in Word War II and was at Normandy on D-Day. I remember going to his apartment when I was little and asking if I could play with his medals. I was young and didn't know any better, but he would always say "Yes, go ahead."

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As a son of a Veteran, my Dad never talked much about the time he spent in Vietnam. He volunteered to serve and he spent three years in the United States Navy.

As a kid, I would ask him about his service, and he would always give me short answers and would quickly change the subject. He simply wasn't comfortable talking about it. As I grew older, my Dad and I had a complicated relationship. We would often butt heads and as I moved away, we would have the "mandatory Holiday conversations".

He passed away on March 28th of this year.  He was 76 years old.

Credit: Derek Wolf

I drove back for his funeral.  I wanted a couple of days in the car so I could process my feelings and have time to think about what he meant to me.  Even though we weren't close, there was no doubt that we loved each other.

Something interesting happened on that trip back home. I stopped to visit with my Uncle on the way and he and a couple of my older cousins shared with me stories about my Father.  They told me of a happy man who loved to laugh and tell jokes, he even taught one of my cousins how to throw a proper curveball.

For the first time in my life, I learned what my Father did in the military.  My Uncle told me of his duties and the truly inhuman things that he witnessed. It was no wonder he never wanted to talk about it, my Dad had seen horrific things, the stuff of nightmares. For the first time, I started to understand why my Father was the way he was.

close up of dog tags on American flag

I had a chance to meet some of my Dad's high school classmates at his funeral.  They all shared wonderful stories of my father, things that I never knew. He was funny and voted the best dancer in his class.  He did impressions and was a really good athlete, these were all things that I didn't know about my Dad.

I can't explain in words the amount of pride that I felt when Taps played and those guns fired, nor can I count the tears that streamed down my face as the two Navy Officers presented our family with a flag to honor my Father's memory.

USA flag held by a veteran

My Dad would have never wanted such a thing, he wasn't one for pomp or circumstance, and he certainly didn't like being the center of attention.  However, he deserved that and so much more.

All of our Veterans do.

I'm so grateful that we have so many wonderful organizations nowadays to help those who return home from war. There are resources and help available to not only help those that have served but their families as well.  Here in Montana, we are blessed to have multiple organizations that do just that.

That wasn't the case all of those years ago.

So to all of you Veterans past and present, I thank you.  I thank you for your sacrifice and for your willingness to serve this great country of ours. So many of you carry the scars of war, some visible, some not.  May each of you feel loved, respected, and appreciated for all that you have given, and will continue to give.

LOOK: 100 years of American military history

LOOK: What 25 Historic Battlefields Look Like Today

The following is an examination of what became of the sites where America waged its most important and often most brutal campaigns of war. Using a variety of sources, Stacker selected 25 historically significant battlefields in American history. For each one, Stacker investigated what happened there when the battles raged as well as what became of those hallowed grounds when the fighting stopped.

These are the battlefields that defined the United States military’s journey from upstart Colonial rebels to an invincible global war machine.

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