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Being grateful — even in worst of times

Probably the Thanksgiving I remember most was also the most miserable. We were fighting on the Vinh Te Canal in Vietnam along the Cambodian border. Friends had been killed or wounded, yet that didn’t stop the war from going on. Every night, it was our mission to continue to go out on patrol setting up ambush positions along the border to try to stop the enemy from entering the country. It was Thanksgiving 1969. There didn’t seem to be much to be thankful for.

Still, in the midst of that night-after-night fighting, the U.S. Navy decided that we should have a Thanksgiving dinner. At noon that day, we gathered in our fatigues and sweaty T-shirts along a dike-line of the canal as a helicopter flew in from Saigon with hot turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and accompanied by Admiral Zumwalt, Commander Naval Forces Vietnam.

Some of the guys grumbled: “Why doesn’t he come down here at midnight and see what this place is really like, etc.?” But, bringing Thanksgiving dinner was a good, symbolic gesture by the Navy that day. It reminded us that, as Americans, we still had a lot to be thankful for.

When you think about it, one of the earliest proclamations for Thanksgiving came in midst of probably the greatest conflict in our nation’s history, the Civil War. In 1863, with a country divided and bitter fighting raging, President Lincoln made his Thanksgiving Proclamation invoking the help of Almighty God: “With humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience… [we] fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty to heal the wounds of the nation….”

Sometimes you need to be most thankful when adversity seems to be at its worst.

We are in a war, of sorts, right now with the resurgence of COVID. Some of our fellow Americans have decided not to be vaccinated. Hospital beds and ICU’s are filling up again, this time with the overwhelming numbers being the unvaccinated.

It is a time when we must maintain vigilance and urge vaccination. We have to rally the troops and keep up the fight. There was an article in the paper this week from a retired doctor urging us to again thank those in the healthcare field who are in the forefront of this fight at the doors of our hospitals and emergency rooms. We should be thanking them.

There are others, including people we know, with a recent, crushing sadness of having lost a spouse or family member. Thanksgiving, this year, has been tough for them. But, with support from family and friends, hopefully they were able to dig deep and find those nuggets of life and memory for which they can still be grateful.

A great old friend, now deceased, gave me some good advice which also might apply. “Rol,” he said in his usual drawl and drawn-out voice, “Thank the Lord for the ships you got on, not the ones you missed.”

At the time, I think he was referring to a business deal that didn’t turn out quite as I had expected. But, his advice was also solid as a way of looking at life itself.

Our family, this year, had its own special challenges; but things have worked out for the good — so we have had much to be grateful for. Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday of the year!

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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