We really don’t have an excuse to get Zac out of it except that making a four hour round trip for up to two weeks to fulfill a duty of American citizenship is just flat out inconvenient.
While Zac was responding to the summons online, I started thinking about a group of people who sacrifice a lot more to preserve democracy — the men and women of our military.
A specific soldier on my mind was Zac’s brother, Jeremy, who is currently serving in Afghanistan with the Alabama National Guard. He did a tour in Iraq several years ago.
Zac and I were not together then, so this is the first time I have witnessed what a soldier’s family goes through during deployment.
The experience has not been nearly as dramatic as an episode of “Army Wives,” mostly because it involves two brothers.
Zac and Jeremy are about as opposite as two guys can be.
Jeremy likes guns and Crown Royal, while Zac prefers books and “World of Warcraft.” Jeremy has a perpetual crew cut, and I have often heard him refer to Zac as “hippy” because of his shaggy hair.
Their rivalry even extends to baseball. Zac is a diehard Chicago Cubs fan, and Jeremy roots for the Chicago White Sox. One of his favorite players is Frank Thomas, whom he got to meet while serving in Iraq.
Their common ground is that they’re both just big kids.
I have a picture of them standing in our front yard on Wyatt’s second birthday. Jeremy is smoking a cigarette while Zac helps him untangle the parachute on the G.I. Joe that Jeremy bought for his nephew, who is noticeably absent from this scene.
That was in April. Around Independence Day, Zac told me that Jeremy was going back overseas and that he wanted to take Wyatt around more often until Jeremy had to leave for training.
Jeremy called Zac a few times from camp and then while he was waiting to ship out to the warzone.
I was shocked at how normal those conversations sounded, at least from Zac’s end of the line.
He didn’t shed any tears or profess his undying love for his younger brother. He just signed off with “All right, man. Stay safe over there.”
Now they keep up with each other via Facebook. Zac tells me that he sends Jeremy a message almost every day at lunch, and Jeremy responds if he can.
One day last week, Jeremy missed him online but called while Zac was still on his lunch break. “What did he say?” I asked Zac that night, wondering if the tone of their talks had changed now that Jeremy is in Afghanistan.
“That he inadvertently, accidentally converted to Islam,” Zac said, laughing.
No matter how upbeat Zac tries to be for his brother, I know he worries about him. I find myself worrying about him pretty regularly too.
Three young men from Walker County have died in the War on Terror during my five years at the paper.
One was Dusty Parrish, whom Jeremy played ball with when they were younger.
Jeremy and I went to the funeral together.
When we got to the church, I rushed inside to confirm with the family that they didn’t mind me covering the service. I hadn’t made it to the sanctuary yet when I realized that I had lost Jeremy.
I went outside and stopped in my tracks when I found him frozen in salute.
Jeremy had noticed something while we were walking in that I had not — a hearse. I turned in the direction of his gaze and caught a glimpse of the casket being carried through a side door of the church.
That image of Jeremy saluting a fallen soldier is forever burned into my mind. It reminds me that while the rest of us can wave flags and sing songs, we don’t really deserve to call ourselves patriots.
That badge of honor belongs to people like Dusty and Jeremy and the countless others who are in a foreign land right now so we can walk freely in this one.
For them, Veterans Day is just one more day to get through so they can make it home.