Koetting: Best gifts cannot be wrapped

December 31, 2012

Most people are probably still recovering from the holiday buzz of Christmas. They are relaxing in front of a fire in their new fuzzy slippers, reading their favorite book and drinking a cup of coffee. They are thankful to have visited with family, whether they live close by or states away. They are smiling at the array of gifts they received and the ones they gave to others.

I have discovered gifts come in all forms. Iíve been privileged to give and to receive. On Dec. 14, I took off work to finish up my holiday shopping. As I headed west, I made a stop at the Lutheran Good Shepherd Nursing Home in Concordia. I walked into the room of World War II veteran Vernon Meyer. He was sound asleep. I gently tapped his shoulder and he pretended to be awake. He nearly fell out of his chair when he realized I was standing before him.

Vernon and I became friends when he shared his service story with me years ago. Weíve kept in contact ever since. He made me smile as he pulled out clipping after clipping of stories he kept that I wrote. I was shocked when he asked me about our newsroom bowling experience. He got a kick out of reading Travis McMullenís take on how hard it was for me to find the right bowling ball. Before I left, I asked a woman at the front desk if she would take our picture. He mentioned how he doesnít smile for photos, but as you can see, he did for me. I regret I donít have pictures of me with all the veterans Iíve interviewed over the past 13 years. Iím trying to right that wrong now.

Back in October, I surprised Tony Gallagher, the commander of the 40 & 8, by nominating him for 2012 Lieutenant Governorís Veterans Service Award. He shook his head in disbelief and looked me straight in the eye and said, ďI will get you back!Ē I had no idea what was up his sleeve. He insisted that I attend the Dec. 20 meeting of the 40 & 8. Little did I know what was about to happen.

In front of a crowd of 84 on a very snowy day, he announced Voiture 333 went all the way to the national headquarters to request that I be named an honorary member of the 40 & 8. I couldnít believe my ears and the tears fell down my cheeks. I never served in the military. What on earth did I do to make this room filled with war veterans fight for me? To know they think of me as one of them is simply overwhelming. I am just a woman who likes to listen and learn history from those who lived it. I never dreamed it would mean so much to so many people. Tony definitely accomplished his mission, Iíll tell you that. I have no idea how to say thank you.

I think one of the most precious gifts Iíll receive this holiday is happening Wednesday. My stepdaughter Ashley is heading overseas with the Armyís 67th Signal Battalion (Expeditionary) to Kuwait. She will be serving a nine-month deployment and will help provide communications for other units over there. I know Ashley doesnít realize her Christmas gift to us is freedom. This gift canít be bought in a store and wrapped with a pretty bow. Itís a gift that one fights and suffers for. Whether she will see any action remains to be seen, but that doesnít matter. The important thing is she is brave enough to answer the call to do whatever it takes to make this world a much safer place. She is a reminder that the military never sleeps. They continue to look out for us 24 hours a day, seven days a week and even holidays. I couldnít be more proud of her and all the others who have served this great nation.

Gifts donít have to come from a store to be special. The most precious gifts come in packages that canít be wrapped.