"Once A SolDier, ALWAys A Soldier"
I was drafted into the United States Army in 1959, and my first deployment was to Kirch-geons, Germany. Over the course of my 30-year military career, I’ve had 17 tours of duty, been in two war zones, lived in three countries (some of them multiple times), had nine promotions, received 16 accommodations and medals (including a Purple Heart and Legion of Merit), enjoyed a 62-year marriage (current), and raised six outstanding children. I’m proud to have served my country.
So, what is Veterans Day, and why is it important to me? Veterans Day is a U.S. federal holiday set aside to honor veterans. A veteran is someone who has diligently served (and been honorably discharged from) the United States Armed Forces.
Well, that’s me.
The military taught me discipline, honor, and camaraderie. The military educated me. I received both my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree while in the service of my country. The military not only taught me leadership but gave me ample opportunities to prove myself and lead – opportunities that may not have otherwise existed for a young black man from Georgia in the ‘real world.’ I’m proud of my time in the military, and I’m proud to be called a veteran in honor of my service. On several occasions during my tenure, I was required to serve in not only a foreign country but under severe combat conditions. I did this for more than 30 years. Each departure was difficult. At first, I left my wife behind which was a huge sacrifice in and of itself, and then the living conditions under which I survived (note: survived, not lived) left much to be desired.
But then I began to leave, not just my wife but our children. This was another tremendous sacrifice as I realized my wife was struggling to raise our children without my presence. (She did a good job, too.)
The sacrifices I made during those 30-plus years of military service were enormous, but I gained a lot and am still here. Each 11th day of November, upon realizing I am (still) alive, I acknowledge just how blessed I am because I knew a lot of those individuals who “get celebrated” in May on Memorial Day. As the late General Colin Powell stated in his 1989 Veterans Day Speech, “The nation owes a great debt to its veterans, whose service to the nation spans every decade, every year, every day of our country’s existence. Through untold sacrifices, America’s veterans have secured the liberty which the founding fathers sought to establish, in times of darkness and danger as well as in times of peace and prosperity. America’s veterans have been there.” Today, I salute all veterans and their families everywhere, and I am proud to be one.
H.W.W., Command Sergeant Major (ret)