A Veterans Day Message For The Youth Of America
As I do every year on every Veterans Day, I attend a ceremony to honor our nation's veterans. Last year I chose to attend the ceremony at Veterans Park in Mentor, Ohio, my hometown. It was a modest ceremony, maybe 40 people at best, but then again through the years I have become accustom to that. There were the usual politicians and dignitaries and I appreciated their attendance but they are not who caught my attention. There was Chuck, the Vietnam Veteran who gave a bit more than his "All". He gave a leg also and had to be supported by a wall and his crutches, for he wanted to stand for the ceremonies. As I sat and held the hand of my high school sweetheart who I had re-met and married 29 years later, there was an eloquent Marine Corp Officer who was speaking of our veterans. When she mentioned that it was 20 degrees below zero at the Chosin reservoir, a voice cried out, "45 below sweetheart". I knew that the veteran meant no discourtesy to her and I hoped that no one saw the tears in my eyes as I tried to conceive what he might have endured. There were the World War II Veterans. I felt secure in my convictions that their heroic actions made it possible for me to be attending that day. They just sat in silence, alone in their memories. Sadly, I realized that some of them might not be here next year but I vowed I would not forget them.
I remembered those that had already passed on. My father who although his foot was smashed in a coal mine in Pennsylvania had served in the U.S. Army in World War II and did what he could. I remembered my "Uncle Steve" who lost most of the use of one arm to German bullets. I remembered my "Uncle Derby" who landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. He told me that he tried to walk on the beach on June 7, but he could not. There were so many bodies he had to walk on them.
On June 16, 2001 I remembered my "Brother In Arms" Tony Chandler who we laid to rest 33 years to the day he was Missing in action in Vietnam. We got back an arm bone and a finger.
As we near another Veterans Day, I wonder sometimes what its significance is to the high school students of today. Veterans Day is a national holiday where the politicians even down to the local level receive a day off of work with pay and if you happen to work for a bank you will be free to do what you choose that day. I do find some irony in the fact that most veterans will have to go to work on that day. I wonder especially about the high school seniors of this great country who are now trying to make a determination as to what they will do with their lives when they graduate. The events of September 11, 2001 have added new meaning to their decision and Veterans Day this year will also mark the 2-month anniversary of that day that has changed their lives forever. Most will chose 1 of 3 options. Will I go to college? Will I find a job? Or will I join the military? Please hold dear those choices because for many of those that Veterans Day honors, they did not have them.
As a fifty-four year old veteran, I look at Veterans Day from a different prospective now than I did as a young man about to graduate from high school. Im sure the World War II and Korean Veterans share my view on this. As a Vietnam Veteran We did not have option #2, (find a job) for if you did not go to college, your were drafted into the Armed Services and in all likelihood were going to Vietnam. For Korea and World War II veterans they only had one option. They were going to war.
If you value the freedom you have to make your choice upon graduation then I have a suggestion for you of what you might do on November 11, 2001. I would suggest that first you see the movie, "Saving Private Ryan". This may give you a new appreciation for the freedom you have to enjoy Veterans Day and you might be astonished where men find such courage. Then please go to a VA hospital near you, hold a 80 year Old World War II Veteran in your arms and tell him, I appreciate what you did". If you have the time you might want to do the same for a 65 year old Korean War Veteran.
They are easy to spot. Just look for the ones missing fingers and toes from frostbite. Vietnam Veterans stand out in the crowd also. They are around 50 to 60 years old now (that war lasted 14 years) and are the ones missing a limb or two from the extensive use of booby traps by the Viet Cong.
If youre really fortunate you might even find a Desert Storm Vet. Their ranks are a little thinner in the VA hospitals though. This was a good war from our soldier's perspective. We only lost 148 soldiers in that war but Veterans Day will be a bit different for their loved ones than it is for you and I. The Desert Storm soldiers received the homecoming they deserved, but for the ones in the VA hospital, they probably missed out on the parade. They might have stepped on a mine and its hard to march without feet.
I would like to mention that I mean no disrespect to the Veterans who toiled in Panama, Libya, Bosnia, Hatti, The Dominican Republic, Somalia, or Grenada or anywhere else we might have sent our troops. Im sure I may have missed a few countries but alas, I grow weary in trying to remember them all.
It was only 10 short years ago where every where I looked there was an orange ribbon tied to a tree or a lamppost and no matter whom you asked, they said, "I support Our Troops". A stark and welcome difference from the Vietnam era. I remember well a young soldier from my home area that served in Desert Storm. His name was Timothy Allen Shaw. On Labor Day, 1991, I attended a ceremony at John Carol University to award a Purple Heart and a Southwest Asia Campaign Medal to Timothy. Unfortunately Timothy couldnt be with us at this ceremony.
He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery a few months earlier. He died in his sleep. In attendance were the Reverend and Mrs. Shaw, myself, and 2 other Vietnam Veterans. As I scanned the room, much to my chagrin, there were no orange ribbons to be found, no sign that said, "I support The Troops", and no politicians to be found. Our local Congressman was at the parade to honor the Desert Storm Veterans but unfortunately he didnt make it to this ceremony. To this day I am glad that I attended with two of my fellow Veterans or Rev. and Mrs. Shaw would have stood there alone. When I came home that day I opened a drawer and removed small leather bound case I keep in there. It has an inscription on it. It says, "United States Of America". I removed its contents and tried to contemplate their true meaning. In my case were six medals and 4 citations awarded to me for my service to my country.
I did so with none of the braggadocio and false illusions of warfare of my younger years. With age and reflection the contents of that case have taken on a new perspective for me. As I heard another Sailor in my unit state, "I no longer view war as a way of fulfilling my childhood fantasies, for my soul did not go along for the ride". I picked up the medal with the Bronze "V" on it that was awarded to me for "Valor In Combat" and wondered whos son I may have killed to receive such an award. Were there a Rev. and Mrs. Shaw somewhere in Southeast Asia that received an award for the loss of their son? I picked up my Vietnamese Cross Of Gallantry and wondered what meaning it might have to the boys parents. I looked at my Presidential Unit Citation and pondered the fact that the man who was President when it was awarded to me had to resign in disgrace. And lastly I wondered what the medal must have looked like that was awarded to the Iraqi soldier that launched the scud missile that killed Timothy Allen Shaw and 27 other Brave Americans on that fateful day. Surely it must have a bronze "V" on it. Unfortunately I only have the questions, not the answers.
I was asked to fight a war where Victory was unattainable and defeat was unacceptable. I live with that contradiction each day of my life now. Each time I visit the Vietnam Memorial I cant help but wonder if the name of the first man to set foot on the planet Mars may be inscribed there. Maybe the man or women (There are 19 women on that wall) to find the cure for AIDS is there.
I feel that on this Veterans Day, no such illusion exists. This time our freedom and our very way of life are in peril. They probably wont take me now but I would go if asked and I have volunteered my services to the United States Coast Guard to train, for I have know the horrors of war only too well.
I was speaking to a group of graduate students in psychology at Cleveland State University in 1991. After listening to my story, a young man asked me the question; "Do you think you can ever love again"? Im quite sure he thought I wasnt ready for that question but as it turned out, he wasnt quite ready for my answer. This was my reply. "I told that young man that he had no idea what love was. I said, "Unlike you son, most Veterans do not put conditions on love". If there was one thing that war taught me it was the true meaning of love. I can love you for who you are son, not who I might want you to be. One thing in my life I learned from war is that when men go into combat together, they might not like each other but they do love each other.
It doesnt matter whether you are black or white, northern or southern. You know that when the going gets tough that he will do what is necessary to save your life even if it means he might lose his and you will do the same for him. They love each other out of necessity because they know that if they dont, none will survive.
If I didnt learn anything else from war son I truly did learn how to love. I can walk into a forest and sit next to a tree and observe all of natures wonders for I have seen Napalm burn the jungle. I can love a childs laugh because I have heard their screams. I can love the freedom you have today to go out into the world and choose what you want to do because when I was your age I was deprived of my freedom, my youth, and my innocence, while I was supposed to be making this a better world for you to live in. I do feel I have played a small part in making this a better world for you to live in, not because I have fought and killed but because I cried out in anger and told you the horror and reality of warfare. I pray to God that none of you ever have to rest your head on a pillow at night and try to sleep with the memories that the men carry with them that landed at Omaha beach, Inchon or the Ashau Valley. But I want you to realize that they are why you have the freedom to read this letter.
We currently have about 84,000 soldiers missing in action. 74,000 from World War II, 8,100 from Korea, and about 1,800 from Vietnam including WO1 Dale Allan Pearce, (Missing In Action May 17, 1971) a graduate of Mentor High School where I made my home in 1970. I hope you think of them and their loved ones on Veterans Day. I will
I have held my brothers in my arms and listened to their screams. I have never heard one man scream for liberty, honor and justice. They scream for their mothers, their wives, their girlfriends and God, providing they still have a mouth to scream with and they did it so you might be free only asking for your respect in return. Trust me, it's not a lot to ask.
You are not a veteran until you leave the United States military service. We have three new veterans that I know of as I am writing this. They are being laid to rest as I write. They are the first military casualties of our "War On Terrorism". Spc. John Edmunds, who left a note for his wife on the refrigerator that said "Be strong while I am gone". Edmunds signed up for the Army at the age of 17, when he was only a senior in high school, an honors student. His father had completed three tours in Vietnam, and his grandfather fought in World War II. Private First Class Kristofor T. Stonesifer, 28, Died Oct. 19 when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed upon attempting to land in Pakistan. Air Force Master Sgt. Evander Andrews, 36, of Died Oct. 10 in a forklift accident while he was helping construct an airstrip in Qatar. Sadly I realize this list will grow. Please dont forget them on November 11.
If you make the choice to join the military then someday Veterans Day will take on a new meaning for you also. I would like to point out how I feel about that though. If you choose to join the military to protect the freedoms that you have received because of the sacrifices our veterans made and the very freedom I have to tell you how I feel about it, then I think you have made an honorable choice. As of September 11, 2001, those freedoms are in peril. If you feel that "Being All You Can Be" is to get another human being in your rifle sites than I do feel sorry for you for when you pull that trigger you will be forever changed.
Veterans Day 2001 falls on a Sunday this year. There will be no school that day. I hope that the ceremony at Veterans Park in Mentor, Ohio and every other ceremony in this great country have more than 40 people this year to honor those that gave so much and pray for those that go in harms way today.
I will leave you with one final irony to think about on this Veterans Day. During the Gulf War there were many Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen who had joined the reserves that were called up for active duty. There was one auto company in this country who saw fit to pay them what they were making at their jobs for the duration of that war so that they wouldnt run the risk of losing their homes their medical insurance and their livelihood. Which of the big three do you think it was? Was it Ford, General Motors, Chrysler? No my friends, the company was Honda. I hope it is different this time.
If you find time on Veterans day to visit that VA hospital, hold a World War II Veteran in your arms and tell him, "I love you and I appreciate my freedom," Ask him how he feels about that.
May Freedom Endure On this Veterans Day 2001
Petty Officer Second Class
United States Navy Black Berets, Vietnam
USS Brister (DER 327) 1967
Forward Machine Gunner Swift Boat #78 Dannang, 1968
Forward Machine Gunner Swift Boat #94 An Thoi, 1969
Task Force 115
Operation Market Time
Operation Sea Lords