I have had the pleasure of spending time with scores of veterans over the past several months hearing of their experiences while serving in our military. Some I have spoken with served as far back as World War II, some in Korea, most in Vietnam and several in the Middle East. One thing that I observed in each was a certain humbleness. Humble that they were able to serve, and humble that God saw fit to allow them to come home afterward.
I recall hearing my father speaking very guardedly about his World War II experiences. I learned that he shared very little because it was horrid, and many things he saw he was trying to forget.
Many Vietnam vets I have spoken with conversed with the same guardedness. I have learned as much as I could have without personally experiencing it — that the saying “war is hell” is a gross understatement.
Those of us who did not serve in the military have no concept of what those who came face-to-face with combat experienced. And so often those who did carry those memories around in quiet despair.
I remember hearing Mom talk about Dad hitting the sidewalk at the sound of a back-firing automobile while walking down the street.
I can still see the look in the eyes of those whose stories of the horrors of wars and conflicts pulled back the curtains just enough to give me a small glimpse of things they saw.
I have no way of knowing the terror that must go through the heart of a person when out in the middle of the Atlantic when the ship that was taking them to the theatre of war was shot from beneath them. The helplessness and hopelessness of the days to follow as they attempted to survive in shark infested waters for days before being rescued is unfathomable.
The deep-seeded drive to serve is unexplainable. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had a young employee who announced he was joining the Marines. This was at the beginning of the first Gulf War, and from what they told him, he was most certain to see combat. My young friend joined, and while I don’t pretend to understand the ways of the military, he was unsuccessful in passing all the necessary physical training tests.
As I recall, he was given at least two more chances to pass, and finally did. During this time, his parents, church family and I implored him to stop and consider that this might be a sign that perhaps he should take another path in his life. However, his desire to serve pushed him forward in an almost super-human manner and serve he did. Unfortunately, I do not know his fate, but I do remember his unwavering determination.
I saw fire in the eyes of young and old alike when the jet airliners slammed into the twin towers on September of 2001. I watched young men and women alter the course of their lives to join, and I saw former military men and women “re-up” (those who were young enough and fit enough) and continue their service during this country’s time of need.
I heard a young Army recruiter speak of joining because of seeing the horror against our nation unfold on live television on 9/11.
Each night when we lay our heads down without fear, need to thank a veteran, a military man or woman who is serving, and a first responder for that luxury. Those are the men and women who race toward the gunfire, the explosion and chaos that others run away from.
America is the land of the free, and we have the freedom to do or say whatever our convictions lead us to say or do as long as we don’t infringe upon the rights of others. Even when we don’t feel the need to thank one of these heroes I speak of, you should thank them for that right! He or she has taken an oath to die to protect that right for you.
Herb Day is a longtime local radio personality and singer-musician. You can email him at HEKAMedia@yahoo.com and follow his work at http://www.HerbDayVoices.com and http://www.HerbDayRadio.com.