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Honoring our veterans

I sometimes fear that Veteran’s Day will become part of just one more three-day weekend to enjoy or be treated as little more than an excuse to cruise the local stores for big bargains.

That would be a shame.

I’m an avid student of history, the daughter and niece of proud WWII veterans and the wife of a former Air Force officer.

For me, Veteran’s Day is a time of personal reflection.

I find myself looking back at what our men and women serving in the Armed Forces have done for us. I also imagine what a different life you and I might be leading today without their contributions to our nation.

Many of those who have served our country in every war and conflict were ordinary souls that came from farms and small towns, from poor families and minority races.

Others put promising futures on hold, leaving behind the comfort and safety of university campuses, and the lure of a well-paying job, to heed the call.

Many were hardly more than kids themselves when they signed up to help ‘Uncle Sam’.

In Butler County, one graduating class at McKenzie High School had only a single male during one of the war years.

The rest had all gone to serve in the war.

(If this particular young man’s poor health hadn’t prevented him from joining up, it would have been an all-female graduating class.)

Some of these kids would go on to suffer terrible deprivations.

Frozen forests, parched deserts, steamy, disease-infested jungles and dark, dank prison cells all took their toll on mind, body and spirit. There was torture, starvation, and backbreaking labor to endure. Some of what they experienced was so horrific it defies the imagination.

All were not on the front lines. There were those that served as support personnel, keeping machinery in good working order, delivering supplies, preparing meals, driving trucks and transporting troops and equipment. Their roles may have had less glamour and inherent danger, but they were nonetheless absolutely vital to the war effort.

For those who served during unpopular conflicts like Vietnam, life after the war continued to possess a nightmarish quality.

One Army nurse who had faithfully tended wounded soldiers in Southeast Asia was actually spit upon and verbally attacked by another American woman back home who accused the nurse of being a &uot;baby killer&uot;.

Most veterans, no matter what the war or conflict in which they served, will tell you they’ve never thought of themselves as heroes. They are the &uot;citizen soldiers&uot; about whom the late historian Stephen Ambrose often wrote: ordinary people working together, using their abilities to do what they could to defend this nation.

Did they get scared?

Yes.

Did they want desperately sometimes to be anywhere else but those trenches and foxholes, those ships and airplanes?

Of course they did.

They were, and are, only human, full of all the faults, foibles and fears to which any one of us might fall prey.

And that’s what makes their stories so compelling.

Here we have ordinary people—farm hands, teachers, sales clerks, mechanics, college kids—-doing such extraordinary things; managing through their efforts to preserve a cherished way of life for Americans that so few on this planet are able to enjoy.

So be sure and thank your local veterans.

Heroes or not, they’ve certainly earned our gratitude, respect and appreciation.