My father is a true American hero. Not that he would ever think that, much less say it. And now he's likely annoyed at me for saying it out loud.
But on the day we honor all veterans for their service to our country, it's long past time for me to talk about George H.W. Bush and how incredibly proud I am that he is my Dad.
Like most kids, I was largely unaware of anything about my Dad's life that took place before I arrived in it. He was the guy who was great at building things, and reading bedtime stories, putting burgers on the grill, and tossing around a baseball in the backyard. During my teen-age years, he at times was slightly annoying. He set and enforced curfews, had occasional negative opinions about the way I dressed and my lack of haircuts, and more than once rolled his eyes at my strong views on current events.
It wasn't until 1980, after I had married and started a family of my own, and my Dad was running for President of the United States, that I found out just who my father really was.
I threw myself wholeheartedly into his 1980 campaign and enjoyed telling folks about my Dad. So I did my homework. I actually read his biography, to see if there was anything about him I didn't know.
It's hard all these years later to describe, or even imagine, my shock when I learned that when he graduated high school, he volunteered to join the Navy (against his father's wishes, I should add); that when he earned his pilot's wings, he was briefly the youngest pilot in the Navy; and that at age 20, he was shot down over Chi Chi Jima. And that while he survived, his two crew members did not, never to be found.
My dad was shot down? He was almost captured by the Japanese? He was almost imprisoned on an island where the Japanese commander became famous for eating the livers and hearts of captured American pilots? He was plucked out of the water by an American submarine that just happened to be nearby? And he was 20 years old?
When I asked him about it, he joked that it was true, he almost became an hors d'oeuvre.
For all of you who have parents, or grandparents, who are a member of the Greatest Generation, my guess is you have a similar story. They went to war; they fought for their country, and then they came home and got married, raised their families, and made a life. And they never ever talked about their service to country.
Yet, without them, our world very well might have been lost to tyrants and dictators. That, too, is a world that is hard to fathom.
Some of our country's darkest days were during World War II, but the challenges confronting us today in many ways are just as concerning. We are facing an enemy whose main weapon is terror, and who have no respect whatsoever for life, and want nothing more than for most of us to disappear from the face of the earth.
Like the Greatest Generation, many of our young people are volunteering to go to the front lines of this ongoing war to make our country safe. They often do this without fanfare, without credit, and without celebration. One of my toughest jobs as Governor of Florida was to call the families of the men and women in our state whom died in this noble calling. No matter how many times I had to do it, it never became easier.
So today I honor all veterans of all ages, of all wars, of all battles, who loved their country enough to join the military. There are no words of gratitude to thank them for what they did. Certainly my pledge to them is that I will forever respect and honor them, starting by making sure all our veterans programs are what they deserve. I am grateful for the trust 12 Medal of Honor recipients have placed in me with their endorsement and support. I will not let them or their military brethren down.
Maybe today each one of us can make sure we let at least one veteran know how grateful we are. Maybe by attending a parade, or flying the American flag, making a phone call, or writing a note.
I know I will.
My dad is an American hero. And I am a grateful and proud son.