Thursday, November 25, 2010

Two Holidays in November

There is no historical or cultural connection to the holidays we celebrate each November.

When the pilgrims celebrated their first harvest festival with the Wampanoag Native Americans in 1621 at Plymouth Plantation, I'm sure there was no discussion of a federal holiday that would recognize the contributions of those who served in the armed forces.

Likewise, what is now considered by many to be the first Thanksgiving had little bearing on President Woodrow Wilson's act of proclaiming November 11, 1919 to be Armistice Day - a day "filled with lots of pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory (in World War I)..."

Separated by 14 days, these two staples of our November calendar are distinctly different.

And yet, in the morning hours of Thanksgiving 2010, I see a firm connection between them.

In a few hours, my family will travel a short distance to Randolph to share a bountiful meal with Grammie Kay and Grampa Harry. We will give thanks for the food on their table, the warmth of their home and the opportunity to spend time together.

Thousands of miles away, at separate military locations in Afghanistan, Capt. Mark Quint and Sgt. Jim Fairservice will experience a different type of Thanksgiving. They will be far away from their families, working and living in a country devastated by years of war, brutality, suffering and abject poverty.

Their sacrifices, in support of our country's longstanding military occupations of both Afghanistan and Iraq, will contribute to ongoing efforts to improve the lives of those who deserve much better.

For Mark, my nephew by marriage, and friends Jim and CW4 Jon Campbell - a Blackhawk helicopter pilot who served his first tour in Iraq while his wife Stephanie was pregnant with their daughter Ella and his second while Ella was a preschooler - the national debate about whether the U.S. should even have troops stationed in these countries is a moot point.

All three - and scores of others whose service time coincided with my own eight-year tenure in the Maine Army National Guard - know they have a job to do and are doing it willingly, away from their loved ones, in a hostile environment where daily acts of violence by insurgents, warlords and terrorists pose a constant threat to their lives and well-being.

Their selfless service - abroad and at home - protect the freedom and security my family and I are fortunate to enjoy.

And on this day set aside for public and private acts of giving thanks, I offer mine to all those who serve in our armed forces.

I wish them continued safety during their tours of duty in hopes that, next year, they too will be able to celebrate this day with those closest to them.

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