In Honor of Veterans’ Day

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Today is Veterans’ Day.  This day is set aside to honor those who have given their time and their service to protecting and defending their country. Some have given more than that . . . they have given their limbs, their eyes, their peace of mind. Some have given what President Abraham Lincoln called, “The last full measure of devotion,” their very lives. Today our men and women in arms are fighting shooting wars in two countries and those wars are not popular among all people. If you disagree with our country’s reasons for fighting these wars, in fact, if you disagree with anything the government of the United States of America does, that is your right. I have watched several videos on that greatest and most reliable of networks, YouTube.com, where men and women have shown catagorical disdain for this country, our government, our leaders, our flag, and those of us who they term “flag-waving patriots.” Once again, this is their right. I am compelled to remind each and every one of you — Democrat, Republican,  Independent or Other; Gay or Straight; Black, White, Red, Yellow, Tan, or Multicultural; Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, or Other — ALL of you owe your right and freedom to disagree as well as every other right you have and freedom you enjoy to the men and women of the armed forces past, present, and future.

If you disagree with the wars they fight, that is your right, but please — I beg you — please do not allow your distaste for why they fight to discolor your opinion of who they are and the service they give. They did not choose their wars, but they chose to serve and they deserve our respect and honor for that reason if for no other.

My school honored our veterans with a beautiful ceremony earlier today and as part of that ceremony the winners of an essay contest about “Why Veterans Should Be Honored” read their essays before the assemble student body and guests, guests that included several veterans. Many of those present and I were touched by the sincerity and the power of their words. I have obtained their permission to reprint their essays here each in its entirety. The essays are verbatim and uncorrected and I think they are amazing.

The Sacrifice We Should Honor by Rachel L. 7th Grade

Huge flags billow slowly, their huge folds settling on the air, half-heartedly riding the wind before falling back on the pole that holds them. They stand sentinel over thousands of white crosses, watching over the ones at peace that are below them. But why are they there? The answer lies in the cloth of the red, white, and blue flag. It stands for the freedom the individuals who lie below them won. The ones who are alive know this; the ones who survived the terrible bloodshed understand this well.

‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ John Kennedy spoke these words that have rung throughout history, stirring emotions in everyone. Soldiers especially take these words to heart. Freedom is what they fight for and they ignore their own safety as they struggle onwards towards the goal of peace and justice for all. Their patriotism is touching and inspiring to all who do not take this freedom we are blessed with for granted.

We should honor these soldiers, and those who survive to come back home. America is built on their blood, sweat, and tears. Without our veterans, America would have collapsed long ago. Veterans are the warriors that have carried the burden of America on their backs.

Although some veterans might not be physically hurt, their minds bear burning scars that haunt them the rest of their lives. Still others are physically wounded, with missing limbs or terrible wounds caused by shrapnel and bullets. They they have to live out their lives, with a disfigurement to remind them of the price they paid to preserve the freedom of the country they live in. We need to take special care of these people who have seen the horrors of war.

Too many people in our country complain about unimportant things, while soldiers overseas are dying to give them that freedom to complain. The very people they fight for often ignore the ones who come home, the veterans. We should honor these men and women who so openly throw themselves in combat to protect our freedom and our lives. Think about it. You never know if the person you see on the street or in a hospital is a veteran that saved your life.

Why Veterans Should Be Honored by Rachel K., 8th Grade

Veterans are much more than just citizens of America. They are national heroes of America. Veterans sacrifice everything to fight for our freedom and safety. They care so much about us that they are willing to fight for their country.

Veterans should be honored because they sacrifice their lives for us. These soldiers are brave and strong enough to enter territories in which the conditions are beyond our imaginations. The men and women of the army are prepared to die for their country on behalf of freedom.

Veterans should be honored because they are forced to leave their families behind. A family soldier could have died in the war with their family clueless. Some soldiers are afraid that everything will have been changed by the time they make it back. This is one of the most tragic reasons.

We should honor veterans because of the terrifying and heroic experiences they have had. Some soldiers were captured and held captive for over five years. They have suffered major injuries, abuse, starvation, and many have died. These are only a few things that veterans could have suffered from during captivation. Only the bravest people are willing to go through these harsh obstacles for our country.

Veterans cared enough about each citizen in the United States to go to war and try to make peace. Soldiers have embraced their ability to serve and to honor. They work hard enough to try to make our country the best and safest it can be. How would you like to have been a great hero for your country, and not be recognized? Veterans only ask for remembrance, is that so hard to give them?

I hope that every American citizen will honor and appreciate every veteran with the highest and up-most respect that they can offer. These soldiers deserve all of the honor and remembrance that we, as Americans, are able to give.

I appreciate these two young peoples’ sentiments. I’ve known some to say that we shouldn’t fight. I agree that we shouldn’t always fight, but sometimes . . . well sometimes the only way to get people, especially bullies, dictators, and tyrants to listen is to fight. Always, ALWAYS remember that it is not the soldier, sailor, or marine’s decision who, what, when, or where he or she fights. Anytime lives are on the line, disagreement will follow. Some of you might even be interested to know that, even after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the vote to declare war on Japan was not unanimous.

What I’m saying is not every threat to our country is as real, as obvious, in the public mind as the Kaiser’s Germany or Hitler’s Nazis or Tojo’s Japan. No matter the threat, however, our men and women in uniform go to meet it. Each and every one of them swears an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against ALL enemies” They do not have the luxury of deciding who that enemy is. So please take time today to say thank you to veterans you may know because you need to remember, “if you can read this blog, thank a teacher and if you are FREE to read this blog, thank a veteran.”

Wash your feet y’all 🙂

Semper Fidelis

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One response »

  1. On the 11th Day of the 11th month each year, Americans come together to honor those in uniform, the ones who sacrificed for our nation, on Veterans Day. As a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan, War on Terror, I urge everyone to take this day to not just thank a veteran, but to talk with veterans. Learn about how our experiences have shaped our lives and what issues we face as we make our transitions back to civilian life. I would like to explain my side of the story, my own experience.

    When I joined the military I was a young, confused kid, who did not know much about life, due to being sheltered for most of my life by my over protective parents. I did not know much about the war, just that I was enraged at the hatred those terrorists had for all Americans and me. I wanted to help my country, to protect it at all cost, even giving up my life to do so. It may sound funny but when I initially tried to enlist in the military, I was to be a military post-man, but the job had already been taken. Since I am color-blind, I wasn’t able to have a range of opportunities in the military. My placement was therefore in Mortuary Affairs Specialist. I felt that I grew up quicker in my years in service than most people do in their whole lifetime.

    I was nineteen years old on February 8th, 2002. It was kind of cold for Phoenix as I reached the Airport headed to Fort Jackson, in South Carolina for basic training. Upon reaching Fort Jackson, referred by some in the service as relaxant Jackson, I found that the life I had chosen would not be as easy as I thought. Those first couple of days I got a hair cut, issued uniforms, and learned the waiting line for training was long. During this time, since 9/11, there was a mass influx of new recruits; the Army had problems finding them units to train in. For me I was lucky kind of, since I had a school date that did not come around very often, they tried to offer me another job, but I turn them down, I was shipped from Fort Jackson, then to Fort Lenderwood Missionary. The Ozark Mountains are cold and during winter, it was unbearable. It was an extreme change for me because I was mostly familiar with the hot weather in Phoenix, AZ. Exercising and running in extreme weather with being out shape was horrible. There was no special treatment for anyone but the drill sergeants made me work twice as hard. The treatment I received was something similar to a movie, where the fat kid got picked on and abused, but it was some thing I needed in order to become who I need to be. Despite this, I worked hard, did everything I was ordered to do, and eventually I graduated from boot camp with a new physique. During graduation, my fellow recruits honored me with “The Most Changed Person” reward, the Order of the Dragoon.

    I was off to my next challenge, training for my MOS. When I reached Fort Lee, Virginia, I missed my start date and had to wait for the next one. This meant that I couldn’t get a pass to go anywhere; I had to just sit at the barracks, clean the floors, and do KP duty. After awhile this routine got incommodious. I was so happy on Memorial Day 2002, because the next day I was scheduled to start school. Then all of a sudden, I had horrible stomach pains, and could not figure what it was. So I was sent me off to the ER, the doctors initially diagnosed appendix problems. The one-hour surgery was then scheduled immediately, however it took five hours to complete. Apparently, my appendix had been ruptured for over a month including basic training. The surgeons said I am so lucky to be alive. I got a month off to recover and relax. When I got back to Fort Lee, I had to wait another month for class, so eventually when I got to school; I did my best to learn about my job and almost graduated at the top of my class. The reason why I did not graduate at the top of my class was due to my stomach muscles not fully recovering, which made doing sit-ups very hard. I did it because I wanted to join my unit at Fort Lee.

    My feelings of excitement and wanting to serve were still in tact even after months of prolong waiting and recovery. In order to be all that I could be, to be the best, I exceed my own abilities by 120%. The mindset I had, came a long way (physically from Phoenix and mentally from the first story I heard about the terrorist attacks), I had really changed for the better. In the first year, I received my first (minor) medal, the Army Achievement Medal. With this acknowledgement from the Army, I wanted to speed up my deployment overseas to Afghanistan, but that wasn’t going to happen until March 18th 2003. According to orders, my team that I was assigned to from my unit wasn’t schedule to arrive in Iraq first. Instead, I worked in the Theater Mortuary Affairs Evacuation Point, a place that went nonstop for the first three months.

    Sleep was limited to when I did not hear a helicopter, and when body’s slowed down coming in. In the states I had worked at the Richmond Morgue, but war was different. Instead of just seeing some one you did not know in the states, in Kuwait you learn to know every one, due to them wearing the same uniform, and inventorying all their personal effects, you knew who they wear when they left. Not only was our job to process Americans, but we also helped process British, and any other Allies. During this time I saw the mistakes we made, such as shooting British helicopter down with Sam missiles, and killing Brazilin journalist when we hit the wrong building, during that time I saw the horrors that mankind was possible of. I start experiences, problems, and tried to seek medical help, but I was deferred and told I would be fine. My excitement had come to an end, and I start to get in trouble, pretty soon my 1st Sgt, thought that I was not experiencing enough of the war, so he sent me to the Iraq, Camp Alsad. In Camp Alsad, was slow, but became difficult. Some of the soldiers I ate with at the chow hall, and knew were head on a rest and relaxation mission, but instead of making it, their helicopter was shot down. My team had to go clean the site, recover the bodies, and inventory their belongings. Man life is tough, but even tougher if you know the people. There were two other tough missions. The first were, when three Special Forces soldiers had been killed, when they were given orders not to shoot into a crowd even if they were receiving fire, not only did we have to process their bodies, but we also had to process the bodies of the people who had killed them. We are mortuary affairs first, and as such we have a moral obligation not to look at uniform, or lack of one, but to look at the person and understand their journey had come to a end, and it was our job to treat them with respect because every one has family and friends that care for them, it was not are job to judge right or wrong, which is very hard. The second tough mission was when we went with a convoy head to a site, that they had reportedly killed Sadam Husain, but in fact the compound was filled with animals and women and children. I do not think the Air Force meant to kill them, they were trying to do there job in following cell phone singles, and when they split, they went after the most likely target. On this mission two things had happened. One back in Alsad I was having bad night terrors, but the person in charge of my team figured the answer was not sending me back, but instead was to put me on night duty, and to change the location I slept on, in the location I was, this almost spelled disaster for me and my friend, when I woke up and started to scream at the top of my lungs, the people sleeping around the truck react and were about to shoot in the back of the truck, when my Sgt yelled stop he is just dreaming, oh thank god. The second thing is as I stated before, we are trained to respect the dead, and their belongings. This did not transfer to the people there, instead they were ordered to bury everything, destroy all evidence and move on. That pretty much covers Iraq.

    When I got back to the states, I faced many hardships under the care of the Army. I am like millions of other veterans dealing with mental and physical scars of war. Most Americans will never know about these issues because it is not covered in the news or articles. The Army has become a two-sided issue for me; it was once a place where I wanted to succeed at being a great solider and fight for our rights and our country. Now that I came home I am still fighting another battle, however, this fight, I fight alone. I am trying to cope with sudden flashbacks, traumatizing combat events, hyper-vigilance to the recurrence of danger, feelings of numbness, low self-esteem, rage, and lapses in concentration. All of these have caused me to descend in my quality of life. I thought the Army and my unit would continue to care for me, treat me as a fellow solider, and assist me with finding resources for coping and healing. However, this was not the case, my unit classified me as a troublemaker, an unfit solider. As a result, they discharged me out of the Army abruptly without taking responsibility for the causes of my PTSD illnesses. Like other soldiers, I tried to reach out for help but once the system failed, I tried to commit suicide twice during my service. Luckily, both times, one of my few friends stopped me. This incident put me in a mental hospital involuntarily, where they doped me up on strong medicines, and no one cared to seek the reasons behind the action. I wasn’t allowed to receive my care at the Army hospital, because if procedures were followed, there would have been a long investigation and no one wanted to take the time to take care of their wounded soldiers with PTSD. Instead, I was discharged immediately with personality disorder. This seems to be the common practice for the Army, not just in my case but also 20,000 other veterans. At 5 P.M. September 16, 2004, my last official orders from the Army were, TO GET OUT!! Heavily medicated, I received my car keys, and was told to drive over 5000 miles, all the way home to Phoenix, Arizona. My feelings that proscribed afterwards are indescribable.

    Even though I am still in my own body, this whole experience has shaped my life. Following my physical return home to Phoenix, AZ, I, however, didn’t return home with my state of mentality. My homecoming wasn’t what I imagined, that is because it was based on tv and movies I’ve seen about returning soldiers as hero’s. I became hospitalized time and time again.

    Don’t worry, my story gets better and does have a great beginning. This new chapter in my life begins with the chance meeting the love of my life, my wife. With her continued support, I am able to handle some things on my own. A great support system, love, understanding, and patience, is what I think all soldiers should have and receive upon their return home. After all, the important issue is that we are all humans! With the good and the bad, we will always have our memories.

    So on this Veterans Day and every day the best way to honor our veterans is to connect with them. So please remember and honor our fellow humans, our veterans. Without recognition from our family and friends, it doesn’t seem like all of our efforts make a difference. Many of us new veterans are being left behind, we have honored you by defending your rights, and all we ask is to welcome us home.

    Sincerely,
    Joshua C. Poulsen
    Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran

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