I have never worn my country's uniform...

My name is Derrick Wilburn. I live in Colorado, USA and I would consider myself a typical "John Q. Citizen." I have three wonderful children and I was there for all of their births, there for first teeth coming in, there to see first steps taken, there to help teach them how to tie shoe laces and throw a baseball, there for graduation ceremonies from the kindergarten. I've taken them to YMCA league basketball practice, and soccer, and dance, and whatever else they've been into. I took the training wheels off of all of their bikes and ran beside them on those wobbly first attempts at two-wheeling it.

Though I've missed a few, I've been there to watch their games. Been there to blow runny noses, help them figure out how two minus three can result in a number that's less actually than zero. Made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when they were hungry. Gone hiking in the summer, sledding in winter.

With the exception of nights that I've slept in a comfortable hotel room, I sleep in a king-sized bed with the one I love every night for the past nineteen years. I eat hot meals when I desire. I've never really volunteered to lay my life on the line for anyone, let alone perfect strangers. I've never pulled a sixteen-hour patrol shift, never climbed to the top of some sand hill in 115 degree heat wearing Kevlar body armor, a 65-pound backpack and carrying a 15-pound machine gun. I've never slept in a hole in the ground that I'd dug just hours before, or in the crawl-space beneath a Humvee while sucking diesel fumes or trying to block out the thunder from passing birds of war.

When I'm hot, I turn up the a/c; when cold, turn up the heat; when hungry, go to a well-stocked kitchen just a few feet away. I don't live with my head on a swivel. I haven't lost dozens of close friend, co-workers, brethren-in-arms and had to deal with the grief of losing them while knowing it was just inches away from being me.

Veterans have lived in a world I cannot imagine. I have no commanding officer nor anyone else yelling in my ear and demanding precision. They missed births, birthdays, tucking in and all the rest by accepting a job that sends them half a globe away from the ones they love for months sometimes years at a time. They do it for all-too-little pay, often times serving as political ping pong balls as citizens and elected representatives alike bicker and posture. And they do it all because they've sworn an oath to defend this, the greatest land on earth, from any and all who threaten her.

Thank you, from a grateful father and husband, America's veterans. You are the best this nation has. Extraordinary human beings in every aspect of the term. I sleep better at night knowing you are on that wall.


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