Veteran's Day, A Soldier's Perspective

By Joel H. Ward
Colonel, US Army, Retired

Today is a special day for people like me. You see, there is a group of people in this country called America that have the same thing in common. They are very proud of it and it is something that most Americans value. Yet, some take it for granted. This group of people come from all walks of life -- from the farms and the cities, from the hills and mountains to the flat lands, and from the ocean cities to desert towns, but all these people have this one thing in common. Not all people have done what this group of people has done, but everyone has benefited from their accomplishments. As you have already guessed, we are veterans.

Veterans have fought in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War and several smaller ones. These are good people who have left their homes and their loved ones to fight for America. Some of them did not come home. They lost their lives for their country.

Today is Veteran's Day. Sharing my feelings about Veteran's Day is not an easy thing for me to do. I guess that is because it is deeply personal. It brings forth memories and emotions that are both horrible and poignant. Throughout our history veterans have been called upon by their country to go to war. They place themselves in harm's way, fight battles under extremely difficult circumstances, face the possibility that they might never see their loved ones again or may return severely injured and not enjoy life as before. In some cases, they become prisoners for years. They see horrendous violence and experience death and injuries to their fellow soldiers and close friends. They today suffer a panoramic blur of memories rushing through their minds. It never totally goes away. They seldom talk about it.

I served in Vietnam. My wife suffered hardships while I was away. When my oldest son was a little boy, he saw me leave home twice - once when he was three years old and again when he was eight. I know he also paid a price. I experienced the violence of combat and difficult times when soldiers near me were either killed or injured. I hated writing letters of condolence to parents on behalf of a grateful nation although not as much, I am sure, as they hated receiving them. In a sense, the term veteran extends beyond servicemen to families and loved ones.

A veteran can say: "I have seen the worst of combat and unlike many of my comrades, I survived." "I miss those who gave their all with me in combat. I think of them often." "I am glad I had the opportunity to pay back to America for all the freedoms and privileges I have. I don't take them for granted." "I fought for your right to disagree with what I personally believe. And I continue to think it was and is the right thing to do. It is a tradition handed down from our founding fathers that must continue if America is to achieve their vision."

And yet, I realize that in these times of accelerated living, most people neither want to take the time to reflect nor understand what it is to be a veteran. Even more important is to understand what America might be like if there had not been veterans who went into combat for their country. Many of them laid it all on the line for us. We owe these veterans more than we can ever repay.

As you know, all across America we celebrate our veterans both those living and dead for what they gave to all of us. Without them, America would not be what it is today. I am proud to be a veteran - not because I want people to thank us, but because I, like all my fellow veterans, am glad I had an opportunity to pay back to America for all the freedoms and privileges that we enjoy today. This is the day that I give special thanks and remember my fellow veterans.

You see, war is not something that anyone wants. After each war we hope that there will never be another one, but people, and countries, cannot get along. My hope is that no American will ever have to go to war again. But, if it is necessary, I hope there will be Americans there to serve their country proudly.

This is the last Veteran's Day of this century. May you always remember how special it is for all of us.