Appreciate Our Veterans

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Billye Hutchison
  • 71st Medical Operations Squadron commander
Hundreds of thousands visit Pearl Harbor and the Arizona memorial each year as a tribute to our fallen comrades who gave so much and faced such horror. Hundreds of thousands visit the memorials in Washington D.C. every year, hundreds or less gather to pay tribute to our veterans of foreign wars in small cities across the United States, and even fewer take time to personally acknowledge our older generation' s sacrifices even within their own family. Do you frequently see members of the "Greatest Generation" during parades or special ceremonies remembering past battles or wars? I can recall seeing older gentlemen and women, attending ceremonies, sitting in parks, walking on city sidewalks or in a parade proudly wearing a cap that tells of serving in past wars or in a sister service. These men and women are our history and should be valued and respected.

As I visited the World War II memorial in D.C. shortly after it was dedicated, I was blessed to witness a very touching moment. I recall that moment with tears and with pride for the two very young servicemen in uniform who stopped to talk to a senior veteran in a wheelchair. They chatted a moment and I heard them say thank you to him for his past service and sacrifice. It only took a few moments of their time but it was a special tribute to one who had sacrificed for the freedom and opportunities we have today. Do you personally ever walk up, introduce yourself, shake the hand of a veteran and say thank you? Time is running out to do just that for many of our veterans of Korea, WWI and WWII. Did you realize that we are losing our senior veterans and as they pass on we lose their stories, experiences, lessons learned, and wisdom of their time in war.

Our senior veterans have stories to tell and experiences to share from which we can learn lessons that are applicable to today and the enemies we face. Their war experiences may not include the technology we had in the Gulf War or today, but they still bring memories of long periods of family separation, missed holidays and birthdays, missed milestones in their young children's lives, missed births, missed deaths of loved ones, and memories of friends lost to war. They endured the wounds, poor living conditions, anticipation and excitement, yet fear, of engaging the enemy on the ground, at sea and in the air.

They can also tell you about the strong bonds and friendships formed from shared experiences with life and death, working hard together in all types of weather and deprivation, playing hard when they could and the importance of letters and pictures from home that arrived weeks after they were mailed. Our senior veterans have stories about seeing the countryside of countries of the world from the view of a plane, a tank, while marching or during that short moment of rest and recreational leave. They were the first to see and feel the pain of refugees leaving everything behind, they were the first to see the atrocities of the death camps and they were the first to try to help the homeless of war and to comfort the children. They gave medical aide and hope to refugees, prisoners, the homeless, the terrified and orphaned children and their buddies. They were personal witnesses of the horrors of war and carried the scars and memories of all they saw.

Our senior veterans and all those veterans who followed gave us a heritage and tradition to live up to. We share a very special bond with our veteran heroes. We owe them gratitude, we owe them respect and we owe them the honor of continuing the traditions and honorably representing the values and beliefs they sacrificed to defend. Remember their history and next time, instead of smiling and passing a veteran by, shake their hand and say thank you for defending democracy, our country and our values. It will bring joy to your older comrade, joy to you, perhaps a tear from each of you and it will renew your pride in the role you perform for your country.