There are those who have held up November 11, 2011 as some sort of a special numerical festival. They seem to see something special in 11/11/11. That is something about which I am neither here nor there. No. what really counts for me is what happened at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. That is the date when the original War to End All Wars was ended.
But was it really the end of anything. Unfortunately, the politicians on all sides of the warring nation screwed up the peace which followed. We now know that as we now pause to honor the veterans of all of our country's conflicts that World War I ended nothing. It was just one more deadly conflict in a long list of conflicts in which our nation has taken part. Sadly I see our politicians as continuing their long and storied affinity for screwing things up. But that is a story for another day.
My friends being a veteran means that you have made sacrifices for your country. Those whom I hold the in the highest regard are those who made the supreme sacrifice for our country. These are the people who have paid for our freedom with their lives. Others came home with debilitating injuries and permanent disabilities. These are the people who paid for our freedom with their blood and their very well-being.
Whether you know it or not, there are people who lived through our wars, but have never been able to return to their homes. There are veterans from as far back as World War II who have been permanent residents of veteran's hospitals all across our nation since the 1940's. Let me also state that the same holds true for all of our wars since.
My friends, I am a veteran. I am proud to say that I served my country during the Vietnam War. While others were protesting the war or running off to Canada, I served in Vietnam as a U.S. Air Force Firefighter. It was my good fortune to be able to serve as a crash-fire-rescue crew chief. I also served as the non-commissioned officer in charge of fire department communications.
In addition to my time in the fire service, I was lucky enough to be able to serve as a volunteer aero-medical evacuation technician, with the 903rd Aero-Medical Evacuation Squadron based at the Nha Trang Air Base in the Republic of Vietnam. During 1969, it was my privilege to fly on a total of 37 evacuation missions on the old C-123J transport aircraft. We would fly into and out of a number of smaller, 1000-foot metal runway airstrips.
Yes, I am indeed quite proud to say that I served my country. More than that, I am proud to share with you the fact that I continued my service in the New Jersey Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1996, I left active service as an Army Engineer officer. At the time of my final retirement in 2007, I had completed a total of more than 35 years' active and reserve service.
Many of you never had to serve our country. It is my opinion that you really missed something. Please remember that when people were being drafted into the Army, I chose to step forward and volunteer for service in the Air Force. However, please do not let me suggest to you that all was great for me during my time in the military. It can be very lonely sometimes being away from your family and friends. I watched the first Super Bowl game in Fairbanks, Alaska, spent Christmas Eve one year in the Philippines, and three Thanksgivings far away from home. But that is just the way when you step forward to do your duty.
While many of my buddies were completing college I was serving in Alaska, the Philippine Islands, Vietnam and Arkansas. During my four years in the service I was only home in New Jersey for a total of nine weeks. I spent 32 months in overseas assignments. While I was serving in Vietnam, my brother Bob was serving as an infantryman in Germany. I can recall his stories of carrying a heavy mortar tube through the chest-deep snows at the Grafenwher training site.
Compared to many of my buddies in the Newark Fire Department, my wartime journey was just a walk in the park. Heck, I was in the Air Force. A number of my buddies were wounded and carry the scars of that conflict to this very day. But I am proud of my service.
Our nation is seen as a beacon for freedom in many parts of the world. Unfortunately there are those who want to see our great nation eradicated from the face of the Earth. The events of the past decade have riveted this fact into our hearts and our minds.
However, in the year 2011, the burden of defending our nation has fallen upon a small fraction of our population. Though we have lost thousands killed in the conflicts of the last decade, life in America has continued apace. While you and I have been shopping at Wal-Mart, the men and women of our armed forces have been suffering a horrifying array of devastating war wounds. My friends, many in our nation are now coasting along based upon the sacrifices of a very few. Perhaps it has always been that way.
Anyway, it was with a great deal of pride that I went forth on Veteran's Day wearing my Vietnam Veteran's hat. My son, Father Todd called me to offer his best wishes to me for Veteran's Day. He has done that every day for years now. It was also gratifying to hear a number of young people thank me for my service. That was not the norm back during the stormy days of the 1960's.
As I sat out on my porch this afternoon enjoying a well-earned Veteran' Day cigar, I paused to say a prayer for an old high school football buddy Gerry Connors, a U.S. Marine who died of wounds received in Vietnam back in 1968. He and I were on the football team for three years and came to be good friends. His death still has an impact upon me. Just remember that his is but one of the more than 58,000 people who were lost in that far away struggle. My story can be multiplied thousands of times.
Yes, I was but one among millions who served. But that has been a source of great personal pride throughout my life and my time in the fire service. So please forgive a grey-haired old rascal for taking a few moments to share his pride in serving the United Stated of America.
To all of my fellow veterans, thank you for a job well-done. To all of my fellow firefighters, take a moment and thank a veteran for your freedom.