Honoring the veterans we love

Published 7:00 am Sunday, November 12, 2023

Veterans Day is a time when communities and families honor those who give their lives in service to our nation. We celebrate veterans and their vital role in maintaining the freedom we enjoy, often acknowledging what each man and woman sacrificed for the American people.

Each year in the days leading up to Nov. 11, my thoughts settle on veterans and their families, especially a few in my own family.

My cousin, Allen Selph, served as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam. He experienced unspeakable things, and a few good times, in the Vietnamese jungles, briefly loved a woman there, developed an extended family, and left it all behind to return home a changed man.

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Now in his 70s, he suffers irreparable nerve damage from Agent Orange exposure. He battles anxiety and grapples the nightmares that still haunt his nights so many years later.

But, he did it for his country, for the freedom of his family, and he would do it again today if he could.

As I think of what Allen’s service cost him, I remember two other veterans, my mother’s brothers, General and Henry Cato.

Both in their mid-twenties, Uncle General and Uncle Henry served in the Army during World War II. The first, shy and reserved, was drafted into service. The second, outgoing and fun-loving, enlisted – happy to fight for his country and to see the world outside of Crenshaw County.

Today I sit and read their letters home to family members who saved and cherished the heartfelt sentiments and memorabilia stuffed inside airmail envelopes. 

“It sure is purty country over here,” General said. “They say this war may be over soon and then we can come home.”

“Here are a few dollars,” Henry scribbled. “Buy little Vernice a treat for making good grades. And, set some by yourself Momma. I know you need it.”

They’ve both been gone for three decades, but I still read their letters and consider the different ways in which war and military service impacted their lives.

Henry laughed and talked of meeting Winston Churchill, telling us children how he chauffeured the great British Prime Minister around North Africa. For a country boy from Lapine, his time overseas was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But Uncle General wouldn’t speak about the war. We never learned what he did in Italy and Cicily. We knew only that war was hard, an awful thing, and something he hoped we would never experience first hand. 

I loved those men, and their stories changed the way I view military men and women. On Veterans Day, I think of them and of all the others, along with their families, who sacrificed for their country.

I’m grateful for the ones we celebrate on Veterans Day and for the freedom they ensured with their service.