Thank You for Your Service

Posted on December 2, 2018

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Today is Veteran’s Day, so thank you for your service. I don’t recall when that phrase started to become part of modern greetings, but I’m glad it did since I’m a Vietnam War period veteran, and the homecoming for many of the troops in the late 1960s and early 1970s was both insulting and humiliating.

Veteran’s Day is of course the modern term for Armistice Day. On this very day, one hundred years ago, a peace was signed between the warring combatants in World War One, or the Great War as it was called before we had a Second World War.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the armistice bringing the Great War to an end was signed at Compiègne in France. The Encyclopedia Britannica remembers it as the “international conflict that in 1914–18 embroiled most of the nations of Europe along with Russia, the United States, the Middle East, and other regions. The war pitted the Central Powers—mainly GermanyAustria-Hungary, and Turkey—against the Allies—mainly FranceGreat Britain, Russia, ItalyJapan, and, from 1917, the United States. It ended with the defeat of the Central Powers. The war was virtually unprecedented in the slaughter, carnage, and destruction it caused.”

The History on the Net web records this horror succinctly. “World War One was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of the human race, in which over 16 million people died. The total number of both civilian and military casualties is estimated at around 37 million people. The war killed almost 7 million civilians and 10 million military personnel.” By contrast, about 58,000 Americans died during the Vietnam war. In the Battle of the Somme, which raged for months on the Western Front in World War One, the British suffered more than 57,000 casualties on the first day of the battle, July 1, 1916.

Death, casualties and injuries are sometimes just numbers, especially after the passage of time. I don’t grieve for any of my ancestors who may have been killed or injured in any war before the Second World War, but they need to be remembered.

My dad was in the First World War, my brother an officer in the army during the Korean War, and I was in the Navy 1964-1966 as gunnery officer on the old USS Donner (LSD 20) in the amphibious fleet as we steamed through the Caribbean and Mediterranean. On the other hand, Jim Egan, my old prep school golfing buddy from New Jersey and a graduate of the NROTC program at Notre Dame, chose the Marine option and was sent to Vietnam in 1965, among the earliest regular troops sent to keep South Viet Nam from falling to the communists. In Jan. 1966, Jim disappeared in combat, probably with Vietcong units, and his body was never found. He thus joined the thousands of Americans as a MIA, missing in action.

So, I remember Jim, not as often as I did many years ago, but on special days set aside by our nation, such as Memorial Day, and today, Veterans Day. Coincidentally, recently I have been reading a book by a brother Marine officer of Jim’s, Nathaniel Fike.

Fike graduated from Dartmouth in 1998 and, like Jim, Nate Fike chose the Marines. He eventually became a Recon Marine officer and was sent to Afghanistan and Iraq and wrote a book, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2004) that is a fascinating view into the life of a young Marine officer on what passes for the front lines of today’s war zones which, in fact, don’t have recognizable “lines” of combat.

I am curious as to what young officers in combat face, what makes them tick, how they handle combat, stress, injuries and death, and, especially today, when so many “back home” seem to be bent on destroying some of the sacred principles of our country like liberty, democracy, freedom and personal responsibility. These have taken us into war over the centuries against despotism, fascism, communism, totalitarianism and dictators of all stripes and colors.

If we survive and prosper as a nation, two absolute imperatives must prevail: one, celebrated in our national motto “In God We Trust.” And once we take care of the spiritual dimension, the veterans of today and the veterans of tomorrow—those in service right now—stand at the gate defending our right to live as a free people. Once again, thanks for your service.  You deserve it.

Published as “Veterans deserve our thanks,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Nov. 11 2018.

 

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Posted in: History, Navy, War