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Veteran’s Day memories, then and now

Each year The Southwest Times makes a point of recognizing as many local Veterans as possible. Our special section, which ran Sunday, Nov. 8, included several pages of photos of local Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and members of the Coast Guard who have served our nation.

 

Veteran’s Day has taken on a different meaning for me through the years.

 

As a young boy, I remember looking through my father’s Army book and the photo albums from Germany and other locations he was able to see when he served. My uncle Steve was also a Veteran. He told stories sometimes about Vietnam and his time there. My grandfather served and I heard stories about others in our family that had worn our nation’s uniform.

 

They didn’t make a big deal out of their service, but there is no question that they were my first heroes. I knew from the time I was nine years old that I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I wanted to join their ranks and join that brotherhood.

 

At 17, my father signed the papers to allow me to join the Army Delayed Entry Program. My mother refused. Not long after high school graduation, I got on my first airplane and traveled to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for Basic Training and AIT as a Combat Engineer. I was in good shape, thanks to Coach Joel Hicks and the Cougar football program, and had no real issues with the physical parts. I was used to being yelled at, a combination of growing up with a lot of cousins and, again, coaches, so that didn’t present a huge issue either.

 

During my 11 years in uniform, I was able to travel all over the world. Some of the places I went to were places my father had been. I didn’t let that go unnoticed. Sometimes our travels were for training, sometimes it wasn’t. There were times we were in harm’s way. I jumped out of airplanes, rappelled out of helicopters and all kinds of crazy things in-between.

 

I recently found some letters I sent to my dad from those places as my mother and I were going through some old photo albums and boxes. I always sent letters to mom and dad, but sometimes I sent letters just for dad that told a little more than I thought mom could handle. She wasn’t pleased when she finally read them.

 

Now, with time having moved me past when I can wear that uniform, the next generation has taken their places on the wall. I’m proud to say that two of my own children have joined those ranks. My daughter recently got out after eight years. She did her time and made me proud. My son is still in, now passing five years in.

 

Both of them have served tours overseas. Chelsea spent her first year in Korea. Tyler sent his first two years in Germany, the same country where his grandfather was stationed. They also both traveled to other locations.

 

I wasn’t as concerned for the safety of Chelsea, as her job normally had her closer to safe areas. Tyler, however, is Infantry. He absolutely had to go into the Combat Arms field. He is working hard to outdo everything I did. I have no doubt he will. He followed my footsteps and became a Paratrooper. Pinning his wings on, the same set I was pinned with, were the dream of every Paratrooper.

 

Once again this year, a member of our family is serving in harm’s way. I’ve apologized to my mother many times since my children joined the military. I know now how she felt when I made a call letting them know I wouldn’t be in contact for a while, but couldn’t tell them where I was going. I prayed for Chelsea when she was away. I continue to pray for Tyler, just as my parents no doubt prayed for me.

 

Our family is like a lot of families in Pulaski County. The call to serve has a strong pull here. In my family alone we’ve tracked back several generations who have served. My brother served in the Air Force. Our grandfather, great-grandfather and many others took their turns. We have a nephew now serving in the Army as well as a future son-in-law. My father-in-law, brother-in-law and countless friends also served.

 

One of the biggest things I miss about my time in service is the guys. Some of the friends I made while serving are people I still have contact with to this day. I still hear regularly from Terry Lapka, Kenneth Rice and several other I served from 1987 to 1992 in Alaska. I still speak regularly with several people I served at Fort Bragg with from 1992-98. When you go through “tough times” with people you share a bond.

 

Every branch of the military is important and necessary. We may talk trash about each other in person, but we’ll also back each other up when it’s time. Every job in the military matters too. The Combat Arms troops that take the fight to the enemy couldn’t do it without the support of those who bring the beans and bullets.

 

As a nation, we celebrate our Veterans on a regular basis. I think most of us would agree that a far better way to pay tribute to Veterans would be to ensure they are taken care of much better than they currently are when they finally come home. Too many Veterans are homeless and living day-to-day. Too many Veterans commit suicide because of the demons they bring home.

 

For those who have served, thank you. For those still serving, we salute you and look forward to the day you’re back home with family and friends.

 

Spend every day living a life worth the sacrifices of our Veterans. It’s the greatest tribute you can pay them all.

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