My wife observed my sedentary change in lifestyle since I retired, but rarely commented. Until the week before Veterans Day, when she came home from work and asked, “What plans do you have for this Thursday? If you don’t have plans, we sure could use some more vets represented at our school’s Veterans Day celebration, Bring a Vet to School Day.” She mentioned that the Coast Guard would also be there, but the CG Auxiliary would not be represented. After knowing each other for 40-plus years, she knows how to get me motivated, pride in my service and the opportunity to talk about it with an audience. Then she used the ultimate motivator: “Oh, by the way, honey there will be free donuts for the vets. I think you could probably have one or two since you will need the energy to keep up with the kids.” She went on to say, “If you wanted to ride your Harley up to the school it would probably make it easy for you to find a parking place.” Wait, what - Did I just die and go to heaven? My wife, the risk manager, just said come to her school, be the entertainer, eat fattening donuts and ride your Harley to her place of employment. She either really felt I would be a tremendous asset to the celebration, or she really wanted me up and off that couch. Either way, I was in, so I boned up on my Coast Guard history, and the cutter Taney (the ship on which I served during Vietnam) and prepared some talking points in the event I would be called upon to talk to the kids.
The kids had great and thoughtful questions about the Coast Guard and its duties throughout the 200-plus years the Guard has served the United States. One student raised his hand and said he had observed the guys in uniform saluting each other, then asked, “Why do you guys do that?” My reply: to show respect. Then the kids asked, “Can you teach us to salute?” I agreed to teach them with one condition: Anytime they saluted someone, it was to show respect and honor to that individual. By the time we finished I was very proud of them. Just as we were finishing up, the principal entered the room; one of the students yelled out, “Attention, salute!" He turned to me and said, “Mr. Aikin, I don’t know how to salute. Will you teach me”? I was impressed with all of them, especially the principal, standing in front of the class admitting he did not know how to salute but yet was humble enough to learn for his students. “It brought a tear to my eye. They were so committed."