11. November 2005 · Comments Off on Veteran’s Day Speech · Categories: Military, Veteran's Affairs

Thanks for all the great ideas for my Vet’s Day speech at the university. It went well, although (sadly) it wasn’t well attended. Here’s the text of my comments from the ceremony:

We commemorate Veteran’s Day as a day to honor those who have served our nation as members of the Armed Forces. Many – too many, in fact – have fought and died defending our freedom or helping others establish their freedom. Many more fought and survived, thankfully. Still others saw no battle at all but played an important part in keeping our nation safe, and they stood ready (and stand ready) to do more should America need them.

I fall into this last category. I don’t have a compelling “war story.” I can’t provide a “there I was” moment. But I did my part and made a difference.

I entered the Air Force at the height of the Cold War. It’s probably hard for most students to imagine these days, but the Soviet threat was real. The possibility of thermonuclear war was not easily dismissed. My first duty station was a radar site whose primary mission was to detect a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile attack. As a 22-year-old Second Lieutenant, I was responsible for the software that ensured this radar did its job of tracking missiles. It sure seemed real to me.

Later, as a young Captain, I provided technical expertise to tactical air analysts trying to determine the best response to potential Communist aggression in Europe or Asia. Halfway through my military career, the Berlin Wall came down, the Iron Curtain fell, and the once-mighty Soviet Empire disappeared in what seemed like the blink of an eye. That was about 15 years ago now, so for many of you, the Cold War is just another couple of chapters, sections, maybe just pages, in your history books.

I wanted to make sure you knew that this was not history for many of us. I write occasionally for a blog called “The Daily Brief” at sgtstryker.com. It’s a group blog with contributors who are former and current military members. I asked on the blog last week what folks would want me to talk about today, especially as it relates to the Cold War. Here are some of their thoughts:

  • One wanted me to mention the Berlin Airlift. If you’re unaware of this, you should really find out more about it. The Berlin Airlift showed the resolve of a nation (actually, nations) to keep its commitments to the people of Berlin in the face of Soviet aggression by means of a blockade.*
  • One commenter suggested that I talk about the Fleet Ballistic Missile submarines that patrolled the waters of the world, providing an unseen yet real deterrent. These guys never went to war but always, always prepared for it. Not a job many of us would have relished. True sacrifice in terms of time, family, and stress.
  • Yet another recommended that I make sure you know the grim reality of this period in American history. In spite of the fact that the Cold War was “Cold,” that we never actually went to war with the Soviets, many lost their lives in training exercises or by being involved in other dangerous activities necessary for us to maintain constant readiness. This doesn’t even take in account that the Cold War encompassed both the Korean Conflict and Vietnam.

In the absence of real war, lives are still lost.

The point is that during the Cold War, the threat to freedom and our way of life was real, and there were those willing to pay the highest price to protect us. And this has been the case ever since November 11 was established as a remembrance day at the close of World War I. The threat existed with the Germans in WWI, then the Axis powers in WWII, the Soviets during the Cold War; and it remains with the seen and unseen enemies in today’s Global War on Terrorism.

The best way I can think of to honor veterans today is to give you a sense of why they are willing to do what they do. I’d like to close by reading a selection that I think reflects the feelings of a lot of soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

This is from a letter written by Lt Walter Shuette during World War II to his newborn daughter Anna Mary. It was to be read to Anna Mary on her 10th birthday should her father not make it home. The entire letter is printed in a book edited by Andrew Carroll called “War Letters”** and it is tempting to read the whole thing. But I’ll settle for this small piece:

“Also I pray that the efforts of your daddy and his buddies will not have been in vain. That you will always be permitted to enjoy the great freedoms for which this war is being fought. It is not pleasant, but knowing that our efforts are to be for the good of our children makes it worth the hardships.”

As it turns out, Lt Shuette came back from the war and at Anna Mary’s 10th birthday, he read this letter to her himself.

I don’t mean to suggest that all those who fought or served did so with such altruistic intentions. Or that all of them believed deeply in what they were fighting for. Indeed, we make no such distinctions on Veteran’s Day. All who served deserve our thanks. And all who serve today deserve our continuing gratitude, as well as our heartfelt prayers.

Today is a Federal holiday. In places with a large Federal presence, it’s easier to remember that it’s Veteran’s Day, if only because so many Federal employees are away from work. Except for ceremonies like this, Veteran’s Day could easily be forgotten in a place like Cullowhee. I urge you never to forget. Whenever you think about the freedoms afforded you in this country, remember the price that has been paid to obtain and defend them. May the remainder of your day be spent enjoying those freedoms – it’s an appropriate commemoration for this Veteran’s Day.

——Update 11/13/2005
* I really need to do a better job of acknowledging sources. When I was preparing my talk, I went to Britannica Online (“Berlin blockade and airlift.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005 – subscription required) to double-check the dates of the Airlift. The last line of the article is “(a)s a result of the blockade and airlift, Berlin became a symbol of the Allies’ willingness to oppose further Soviet expansion in Europe.” There’s no doubt that this inspired the last line of my comments about the Airlift. Also, until I read that article, I didn’t know that Britain was involved in the Airlift.

** Corrected to provide an Amazon link to Carroll’s book and also to fix the spelling of his first name. The book was published by Scribner in 2001. I received a condensed version a few years ago from the VFW.

Sorry for being so pedantic. It’s the academic in me, I guess.

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