Saturday, May 17, 2008
Tribute to Veterans
In this day and age, in Upstate New York, this is a very special community. It was like something from more than a century ago, patriotic songs, renditions of each of the service songs, musical tribute paired with a reading of prose, and a speech to honor Veterans. I was honored to be asked to give it.
This was the text I read.
I am honored by the opportunity to speak on behalf of military veterans, on this Armed Forces Day, May 17, 2008.
I wish to thank the event organizers, Mohonasen school district, Dr. Margaret Gray and the Mohon Masque, distinguished veterans, men and women of the United States Armed Forces, ladies, gentlemen, boys and girls.
I am very proud to live in Rotterdam, a community that knows what family values are, not because we adhere to any particular set of religious or political beliefs, but because we value our community, and our children above all. We express those values in the choices we make. We express those values through the sacrifices we make.
Police and Fire departments. Doctors and nurses in our hospitals. Teachers and administrators. Pastors and priests and Sunday School teachers. Little League and Soccer Coaches. Workers who maintain roads and bridges, or who implement social services.
People serve all around us.
Many serve, merely to serve. Some feel that God calls them to serve, out of spiritual conviction, or fidelity to a higher purpose. Some serve out of Family duty, or Honor. Many serve from an out-flowing of the love they’ve received. Some serve to find adventure and excitement, and some serve for recognition or reward.
We do not lesson the value of others, by according special honor and respect to those who serve in our Armed Forces: the men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, Active Duty military, Reserves, and National Guard.
Living today are veterans of World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, other Cold War operations, the Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, or the Sinai, and military liaison missions in Africa. Many veterans served in “peacetime,” or in support roles that allowed combat forces to fulfill their missions.
We honor and respect our veterans, because they risk the greatest of sacrifices. Sadly, many fine Americans gave their lives, making the ultimate sacrifice for their country. No Veteran knew ahead of time the specific hardships they would endure.
None knew the guarantee of survival. Few fully grasped the dangers, difficulties, or the personal cost of service. They committed only to serve, far from home, in dangerous corners of the world. They did not run from duty, they embraced it. Some were called in draft, in earlier days of crisis or pressing need. More recently, they volunteered.
My Father-in-Law Don Hastings got out of High School in 1939 and joined the Army. After two years, he came home for just a few short months, before Pearl Harbor brought him right back in. He could have been drafted, but like many, he didn’t wait to be called.
He spent five years at war in the Pacific. He gave 7 years to his country, but was happy to come home in one piece. Unlike many of his friends, who only made it home with an Honor Guard escort, or never came home at all.
The Greatest Generation, they’re called, in tribute to their defense of civilization, from totalitarianism and holocaust. Many of that same generation served in the UN-sanctioned Korean War, a scant 5 years later.
Another generation served in Vietnam, where more served when called, than ran away, sought excusal or deferment. They served with quiet pride, sacrificially, in the face of protests, hateful speech, and vicious untruths. Only recently, America has tried to properly honor our Vietnam era Veterans, after years of neglect and scorn.
By 1990, the Cold War drew to a close with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. I trained Army Reserve military intelligence soldiers during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Many Analysts volunteered, but there were few of the Arabic linguists in highest demand. The talk then was, would we be mobilized or called up. “Sure, we’ll get called up,” older Reservists said, “right after the Civil War Widows.”
The ever increasing terrorism of the 1990s finally bore the bitter fruit of 9/11, and the horrific losses at The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on flight 93. By 2004, most of my fellow Reserve instructors had been deployed, and many had done multiple combat tours, and numerous peacekeeping missions in the Balkans.
National Guard soldiers, “peacetime” volunteers, many in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, found themselves facing the first National Guard activations since World War Two.
What would Deployment be like? Would we see combat? How long would they take to train us up, and once “in the sandbox,” how long would we be gone? Would we do a good job, did we have what it takes? How much would we be asked to give?
And for every Veteran who serves, there was a husband or wife, Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa, son or daughter, brothers or sisters, grandchildren even, neighbors, friends, Pastors or co-workers, who served, who sacrificed, and who endured the same fears and uncertainties.
Any Veteran will tell you, however tough they had it, their families had it worse. The never knowing if silence meant something worse. Wives worrying for their deployed husbands. Husbands anxious for the day their wives return home from war. A child who cries at night, longing for a Mom or Dad who’s not home anymore, and they can’t understand why. The hundreds of things every day, made sad, poor, of little joy or comfort, because a loved one can’t be there to share. All the chores made easier for two, now dependent on a lonely one. And for single parents, the pain of leaving a child with a relative or friend, who can never love and comfort like Mom or Dad does.
I served as a First Sergeant for the 642nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 42nd Infantry “Rainbow” Division, in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005. I’m asked all the time if I saw any combat. I answer, it depends what you mean.
We saw mortars and rockets. We ran over a 100 convoys, tense moments in town, suspicious trash. Ran into improvised explosive devices (or IEDs), but no injuries even from those that went off. Booms and blasts grew familiar, though remote.
The average soldier returning from Vietnam felt abandoned by country and shunned by fellow citizens. Today, we’re overwhelmed by the support of our family, neighbors, and friends. “I’m no hero,” most of us say. “I never saw any action.” For most, but obviously not all. Like a lottery in reverse, where only the very unlucky lost. The rest of us won, I guess, just by making it home, with all or most of the pieces where they belonged.
Each generation faces challenges, trials, and tribulations common to humanity, and there have always been those few, who answered their Nation’s call, no matter the sacrifice. There’s always a personal cost, always some missing pieces. Even if only lost time.
What you do with those missing pieces makes all the difference. For me, I rely on my faith in God, and the Rock of my Salvation, Jesus. For many, it’s a simple but honest faith in America, in our principles and ideals. Good or bad, whatever the result. The country called, they answered, they served. Like they say, some gave all. All gave some.
John Stuart Mills once said:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. (Courtesy of Quotationspage)God bless our Veterans, the men and women of our Armed Forces, and all gathered here today. May He continue to show mercy and grace to our Nation.
I just don't know of very many communities, other than those with Big military bases or posts or stations, that make much effort anymore to honor their Nation, it's history, and the men and women who serve under arms.
Links to this post:
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]