Reflections of veterans

Veterans Day is here, giving us the perfect opportunity to do more than attend the Veterans Day sale at the local department store or go out for breakfast with the other veterans. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those endeavors; it’s just that this national holiday has to do with a whole lot more than that.

This day makes me think of the many veterans I have had the opportunity to interview over my years doing freelance work. One of the very first was a retiree from Stanhope who was in the Army during World War I. At the time we visited, I’m sure Jim was at least 85 but still very proud of his service as he showed me his portrait as a doughboy and told me about poison gas and how it was to get discharged.

Through the years I have done stories with many World War II veterans , including both of my parents. Because I had always been rather fascinated with the masses of young men who volunteered for service from our farms and little towns, one of my favorite stories for a farm publication was with three local, by-then-retired farmers in Hamilton County who served in WW II.

I asked each of them what they learned from being in a war that saved the world for democracy. And I remember that my late father replied: “Well, when you have a job to do, you just go out and get it done.”

I have been fortunate to visit with several WW II veterans about their experiences as a prisoner of war. From Virgil I really understood for the first time the sacrifices made by these young men who just prior to the war grew up in the hardships of the Great Depression. And then as their reward they got to go fight a war. Virgil told me he believed getting through the Depression gave him the mettle to survive being a POW.

Then there were the veterans of Korea and Viet Nam who shared some of their time with me, along with memories of fighting in less-popular wars. Although they were proud of their service, these veterans admitted they missed out on a hero’s welcome when they finally returned home from the war.

So it is that on Veterans Day I remember my dad and my mom, as well as Mervyn, Neel, Lowell, Carl, Clint, and Paul. I remember the three Honor Flight participants-all passed away now–who shared with me their excitement of being on the flight. As they looked back on those years, each of them was proud of their contributions to our country-yet humble, too.

And so was the WW II veteran who remarked as he reflected about his service during WW, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for those years, but you couldn’t pay me enough to do them over, either.”

From these men and women, I learned about sacrifice and humility and how we all have something to contribute. Thanks to all of you for what you did for us and our country.