Maryville College held its "Best in Blount County" awards ceremony last night honoring various achievements, citizens and veterans. It is a wonderful event at a beautiful campus in East Tennessee with a featured speaker that normally gets a little coverage on the local news but by the time the event actually started the guest speaker we were going to hear went from "motivational speaker" to "the man who shot bin Laden."
I thought there was a mistake. HAD to be a mistake. There just HAD to be more than one man by that name, right? How many 'Robert O'Neill's are there anyway? There was no way that the man named on the national news was the same one we were going to hear a bit later. Besides, hadn't someone else already claimed to have been the shooter? What difference would it make anyway?
As word spread about the man's identity, the event was taking on an different feel. A strange feel. Focus wasn't exactly on the awards anymore. How could it be? Honoring people while ignoring the 'elephant in the room'? Especially the 'elephant' who shot Osama bin Laden. Thankfully, the man was not going to address the question of who he was after all so nothing in the program was changed. Everyone was properly honored and not cast aside in favor of a secret identity having been revealed. It was like "we know but we're not going to say anything." At least his motivational speech had a lot more people paying attention.
Security seemed to be everywhere. Police. Dogs. Checking bags. What? Why do we need security? Oh right, the guy who shot bin Laden is here. Ok, Veterans Day is next week. Maybe that's why this information came out. Wait...is he in danger? Probably. Who knows that he is here tonight? Wait. Could we be in danger? Are we in danger? Have I seen too many movies?
Fact is, the majority in attendance that night were elderly veterans who'd served us in ways we both don't realize and take for granted. There seemed to be a dignity in these men and women that is reserved only for their generation. Honor. Service. Sacrifice. Humbling to be in their presence. While the outside world scrambles to get a look at the latest SEAL in the spotlight, these heroes are just as deserving.