We are free because of the brave was the message State Senator Bob Peterson delivered Wednesday during a Veterans Day celebration at Hillsboro VFW Post 9094.
Peterson (R-Sabina) told the crowd he was humbled to be the speaker because he is not a veteran, “like most of you here.”
In his office, Peterson said, there is a painting by a Highland County artist of an idyllic rural scene and etched on the painting are the words: “Home of the free, because of the brave.”
When he was 17, Peterson said, his heroes were people like Ohio State running back Archie Griffin and Cincinnati Reds Pete Rose and Joe Morgan. Today, he said, he’s amazed at the athletic skills of Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and Cincinnati Reds like Joey Votto and Aroldis Chapman.
“But 30 years later those are not my heroes. My heroes are people who served our country. I truly mean that,” Peterson said.
Among those people, the state senator said, are three people very close to him – his uncle and U.S. Air Force veteran James T. Greshel, his father and U.S. Navy veteran John A. Peterson, and U.S. Army veteran Jeffery Skaggs, an employee on the Peterson farm.
Peterson said Greshel had three loves – his family, the Lord, and his country. He said Greshel loved to fly, so he joined the Air Force and eventually flew combat missions in Vietnam. But he had one more takeoff than he did landings.
Greshel was coming back from a bombing mission, Peterson said, when his plane was hit by a surface to air missile. Greshel ejected into the Sea of Tonkin, then spent an entire night there floating in total darkness with nothing but a life preserver. After 12 hours he was rescued.
“He talks about a long night with the Lord,” Peterson said. And from then on “he loved his country even more, he loved the Lord even more because he gave him a second chance, and he loved his family even more.”
Peterson said that like himself, his father was a farmer. He said that at a young age his father had started a farm in the Greene and Clinton counties area, but then he received a draft letter. So he left the farm operation, sold everything, and went to serve his country.
Peterson said his father served 22 months in the Navy, all during peacetime, and that like a lot of other veterans he peeled a lot of potatoes and such. But he said that in times of war or peace, men like his father are needed to ensure the nation’s safety.
Skaggs went to high school with Peterson and wanted to be the best of the best, so he became an Army Ranger. He joined the Army during peacetime in the 1980s, but Peterson said peace is not what Skaggs experienced. Skaggs served in the Battle of Granada, then spent 18 months fighting in the jungles of Nicaragua. While Skaggs was in the jungle he had a son, but he didn’t know it until the son was 6 months old.
Peterson shared a story about the farm where he works with Skaggs. He said they raise hogs and there’s a pit where manure is collected that is about waist deep. He said that one day a 200-pound hog somehow wondered into the pit and the only solution was for himself and Skaggs to jump in and pull it out. Peterson said that once the job was accomplished, he could not thank Skaggs enough.
“He said, ‘This was not a pleasant job, but this was not a bad job. Any job where they’re not shooting at you is not a bad job,’” Peterson said.
Peterson filled in as keynote speaker at the last second for Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger, who Peterson said was sick. He spoke at Wilmington before coming to Hillsboro then was heading to Washington C.H. to speak at another Veterans Day function.
“Thank you for your service. God bless you,” Peterson told the veterans in closing. “We are free because of the brave.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.