NOTE: This op-ed was originally published by the American Thinker 6 years ago. It is being republished here at the author’s request.
Many millions of men and women have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, from WWII to the present. They all may have had numerous assorted reasons for joining, from benefits and educational opportunities to travel and real world experiences, but for the most part, they understood that U.S. military might was necessary for peace. They have stood ready and leapt into action against our enemies, making them pay a terrible price for any aggression or attack, and they have made many personal sacrifices in the process, in order to keep this great America of ours safe and free forever.
And today our service members follow in the tradition of such American patriots as Tennessee Representative Felix Grundy, who addressed the U.S. Congress in 1811 with the following: [The question is] “whether we will resist by force the attempt, made by the [British] government, to subject our maritime rights to the arbitrary and capricious rule of her will… Sir, I prefer war to submission.”
There is not any way to properly acknowledge the service of so many wonderful and deserving people in a list. Many of us have family members or someone in our community who left military service and carried on through exemplary lives, pursuing their dreams.
Apart from my father, a much decorated U.S. Army sergeant who served during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, some of those Veterans who most influenced my life include:
- A.C. “Ace” Wintermeyer, a WWII U.S. Army Veteran and Chief of LaVergne Fire Department, who gave me my first real job.
- Sam Ridley, a much decorated WWII Air Force Veteran, who did many fine things for Smyrna, TN as its mayor and always had a moment for some great conversation with Smyrna’s youth.
- Professor (Lt. Colonel) Ralph Fullerton, my mentor at MTSU and a former aide to the ambassador to Nicaragua, who was one of the most adventurous, interesting and intelligent men I ever had the pleasure of knowing.
- SSGT Barry Sadler, a Vietnam Veteran and author of the ‘Ballad of the Green Beret’ and ‘Nashville With a Bullet’, who often regaled me with fascinating stories, good advice and a bit of philosophy over many a cup of coffee at Shoney’s Big Boy in Hendersonville, TN.
- SSGT Macon Blue, my Drill Instructor at Ft Benning and a Vietnam Veteran, who had a steel plate in his head and only one lung, due to a “friendly-fire” incident, who often repeated, “Let your conscience be your guide, young soldier.”
- Pete Doughtie, a U.S. Army Veteran, who owns and operates The Rutherford Reader, along with his wife Kaye, and who has been gracious enough to give me the opportunity to keep the community informed through one of the few conservative and ethical newspapers left in America.
Most able-bodied men and a small number of women, nearly 10% of the entire U.S. population, served in the military during WWII and were on active duty by war’s end. As a result, most Baby Boomers have at least one family member who served in uniform, and approximately one-third of all Americans born since 1980 are related to someone with military experience.
Today, our armed forces are comprised of an undrafted, all-volunteer cadre, most of whom enlisted after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and has included nearly 300,000 women, cut from the same cloth as Lt. Col. Courtney Rogers, a Tennessee State Legislator, Lt. Col. Joni Earnst, Iowa’s Republican Representative and SRA Shevontae “Smitty” Smith who served with Reaper 5 in Bagram, Afghanistan.
Soldiers who fully comprehend and believe in the mission usually come home and are able to adjust well. These are the hard men in battle, living, breathing and eating combat operations around the clock.
The vast majority of recent veterans, roughly 90% according to numerous studies, are not bitter or angry. They say they still would have enlisted, even in consideration of all they now know about war and military service.
U.S. Army Sgt. David Moeller, who served two years in Iraq, told the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2014: [We] “had a positive impact there. I don’t regret it. It’s something I’d do over and over again.”
However, even the strongest among us might succumb to the pressure cooker of multiple tours of duty and an untold number of bloody and horrific combat actions. One in two soldiers have reported to government inquiries that they know a member of the military who has attempted or committed suicide, and over one million soldiers say they cannot control their anger.
No one person can presume to actually understand the mental and physical toll military service takes on a soldier, unless they have been where it’s real, where an IED can end your life in a second or where an old Muslim with a mild smile on his face and gentle empathetic eyes says “Allah Akbar” and detonates himself and all within a hundred-foot circumference. Unless one has hunted for the enemy along goat paths and in little mud and wood constructed towns, where an RPG can scorch a man’s flesh from his body in a second, raided a cave by moonlight taking fire all the way to extract, and lain in their own urine and defecation for three days for a high-value shot, one cannot fully comprehend the soldier’s sacrifice.
During a recent conversation, it was heartbreaking and shocking to hear a 90-year-old WWII veteran reminisce and say, with a voice weakened by time, “I wish I’d died over there.” I told him his life and his experiences were valuable to his family and this generation, and that he was loved by me and millions of other Americans, who understood he had laid it all on the line in the name of freedom. His only answer was a nod of his head, a half-smile and tears welling in his eyes.
How many old soldiers returned home only to send their sons off to war to fight and survive or return in a flag-draped coffin?
Since our nation’s founding, the strong independent nature of the American people carried over into the military, which enabled America to pursue her best interests and to become the strongest and wealthiest nation in the world. The wheel of destiny has turned so that any hope for peace and freedom will hinge on America’s moral courage and a U.S. military that ensures “peace through strength.”
This Memorial Day and every day forward, take a few moments, whenever the opportunity presents itself, to offer the sincerest, well-thought thanks to the men and women of our U.S. armed forces, with more than just a smile and a handshake. Offer a friendly ear on occasion and really listen. Offer a helping hand to those veterans struggling to re-enter civilian life, and offer friendship to all of these brave men and women. And, as we acknowledge that so many have sacrificed their lives defending America, the U.S. Constitution and freedom and liberty worldwide, we offer our prayers for all the U.S. armed forces, who protect this nation’s existence each and every day, and we pray for America.
By: Justin Smith