Ah, Thanksgiving. The thought of delicious aromas emanating from the kitchen: turkey, stuffing, a lot of vegetable dishes and a vast variety of pies. Sitting with family at the dining room table and then retreating to the living room to watch football non-stop until the tryptophan coma calls and we drift off to nap — until the next round of feeding frenzy hits. 

While our version of Thanksgiving is markedly different than when the Pilgrims and Wampanoags in Plymouth sat down back in 1620, it is still steeped in tradition. (Maybe if Massasoit knew what was to befall his people, he’d have thought twice about helping the Pilgrims out…and in certain accounts of history, he did. But that is a story for another time.)

What do we have to be thankful for? That is a question we always ask each other around the table every year. The answers to this question are pretty much the same every year, something which may be a bit boring, but there isn’t anything wrong with that as long as these answers come from the heart. 

Of course, if you have a relative or in-law like Cousin Eddie from the Vacation films (doesn’t everyone have one…or more of them?), then the answers to what you’re thankful for can get downright hilarious. So, think of your own answers and I’ll share mine below. 

Having spent many years in the military, there were plenty of years that I was deployed. But I have to say, other than missing family and the requisite football games that went along with it, the Army or the government — when deployed near an embassy — always made everyone’s Thanksgiving as good as it could get. Yet the more they tried to make it as nice as possible, the more we missed home just a little bit more. But there were some great families assigned to our embassies across the globe who always opened their doors to us and made us welcome. You are not forgotten. And thank you. 

Actually the worst Thanksgiving I ever spent in uniform was in the United States. Some genius at SWC decided to run a SERE course that would run through Thanksgiving. And I was in it …of course.

We started our E&E (Escape and Evasion) on Thanksgiving night of all nights. It was cold, around 38-39 degrees, with a soaking, drenching rain falling. A Corporal from the Ranger Regiment (who would later become an SF Field Grade Officer) was standing beside me and summed it up best: “I should be home fat on turkey watching football and getting a hummer from my girlfriend right now.”  Amen brother. 

As I got older and had a family of my own, the entire Thanksgiving dinner thing wasn’t as important as making sure we spent it together.

One year I was working as a security advisor for a Hollywood war film on location in Morocco. We had been there for a few months in the spring and had to go back for what was supposed to only be two weeks of reshoots in the fall.  But the weather turned to shit and we were getting a lot of rain to the point that the airfield we were filming at was under an inch and a half of water. It didn’t look much like Iraq, nor matched up with what we were supposed to be filming. So the time stretched out and November was getting short.

The security guys, the location guys and a few others were the last to leave. I had a flight that was leaving Rabat early the day before Thanksgiving; I then had to change planes in Paris and would finally zip to Boston by that night. 

But as luck would have it, our flight from Rabat was delayed and we arrived in Paris just as our flight from Boston taxied away. The people at the counter said they’d “try” to put me on the flight from Paris to Boston the next day, but it was fully booked. “It’s an American holiday you know…” 

The airline gave me a voucher for a hotel room in Paris and a free meal at the hotel restaurant. Calling it a room was a stretch. Although modern, clean and with a huge big-screen television, it was the smallest hotel room I’ve ever seen… Maybe the television wasn’t so big after all. 

The next morning I got to the airport early and caught the eye of a very sympathetic woman at the counter that told me to wait there a moment. She walked in the back for a few minutes, came back, smiled and handed me a business class ticket. The crew of the Air France flight was great. The flight attendant and I struck up a conversation and besides the dinner they served, she got me a Turkey sandwich. I arrived in Boston that night as my family was gathering at my sister’s house. They delayed dinner until my arrival at 7:00 p.m. that night. It was one of the best Thanksgivings ever. 

A high school teacher, who is a friend of mine, sent me a message saying he was thinking of all veterans on Thanksgiving. I thanked him for his gesture but said, “we’re all home now, think of the guys and girls far from home on Thursday.” 

So yes, there are plenty of things that I am thankful for: Thankful that we are so lucky to live in the best, the most-imperfect union in the world. And, of course, thankful for my family, who has always put up with my shit and still stuck by me. God knows why. 

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But a huge part of me is always thankful for each of us. We all came from different parts of the country, with varying backgrounds and experiences and somehow, not only did we make it through to the other side, but we stuck together and bonded tighter than our families would ever imagine. My wife used to say, “I’d like to go on a date with you, not with 11 other guys and their wives.” LOL “But, we’re family!” 

Life has changed. But our love for one another hasn’t.

I will shoot some photos and write something up about the local high school football game on Thanksgiving — a New England tradition for the local newspaper.  And it is always exciting because these kids are our future. We’re the past now. They have it all in front of them. For that, I’m a bit jealous of, but also excited for them. And I am thankful for them too. 

Happy Thanksgiving, I hope it is a happy and healthy one for each and every one of you.

DOL

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