Something that’s been on my mind a lot is Veterans Day.
We celebrated Veterans Day on the 11th – honoring our veterans with parades and special events. Most of us have or had at least one veteran in our family, or almost certainly know one as a friend or neighbor.
What does Veteran Day mean? For me, it’s a day to remember my late father, uncles, cousins, other relatives, friends and neighbors who served in various ways.
My late father Edmond, a native of Fort Payne, was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam war eras as part of the Army Corp of Engineers. After retiring from the Army, he served with the Fort Payne National Guard.
His late brothers, twins Lester and Chester, also served in Korea. The brothers operated Harrison Brothers Garage in Fort Payne for many years. Uncle Chester would go on to become a firefighter and later chief for the Fort Payne Fire Department and Uncle Lester was well known and respected in the community. All three were decorated veterans.
On my mother’s side of the family, I remember Warren G. Hawkins, or – as I knew him, “Uncle Dommie,” my grandmother’s brother. He served as an attorney in Fort Payne and subsequently as a DeKalb County circuit judge. Uncle Dommie was a veteran of World War II and also the Korean War. Another solider, he served on General MacArthur’s staff in the Southwest Pacific during WW II. His duties included investigating General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the so-called “Tiger of Malaya.” Medals awarded to him included the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal. After his Army service, he served in the National Guard and retired as a colonel in 1972. While in the National Guard, he helped clean up crime in Phenix City, Alabama and guarded Martin Luther King during the Selma March. His great grandson and namesake, Warren McGriff, has continued the tradition of military service.
My cousin-by-marriage Nathan Pack, a native of Crossville, served in the Navy. My cousin Patrick Dobbs, of Richmond, Va, said that on Veterans Day he honors his late father, Lt. Col. Gordon Dobbs, USAF, a native of Collinsville, who served during WWII, Korea, and the Vietnam era. His great grandson, Patrick’s son Stephen Dobbs, is an eight year Navy veteran, serving on the USS George Washington and USS Abraham Lincoln.
My friend Russell Gulley, of Fort Payne, another veteran and former neighbor who lived just down the street from my dad’s auto garage, said he believes Veterans Day is an appropriate time to honor all who have served in the armed forces, not just in war but also in peace time.
“As a veteran, I feel that to serve when called was a duty, not necessarily to be heroic,” Russell said. “Our country does have an obligation to provide veterans with the benefits they have earned that help them maintain a decent standard of living and health care. Let’s show our appreciation to our veterans by supporting them and helping them live a dignified life.”
I certainly agree with those sentiments. There are plenty of ways us non-veterans can go about supporting and honoring each of them, both on Veterans Day and otherwise.
Certainly, we can offer up a sincere “thank you for your service.”
Beyond that, some advice from the military.com website: strike up an actual conversation. Ask a veteran about their service. Don’t ask a veteran whether of nor they’ve killed someone. If you should encounter a combat veteran who either doesn’t want to talk about their experiences or conversely shares openly and plainly, try to be supportive without being intrusive.
We can openly advocate for veterans, and donate to organizations that support veterans, such as Wounded Warrior Project and K9s for Warriors. A quick Google search turns up tons of legitimate options. And the best way to find out if a veteran needs something and how to help them if they do – respectfully, ask.
These men and women are living testaments to both service and history.
According to the WWII museum, out of the 16 million who actively served during WWII, there are only an estimated 167,284 still alive – and most of them are now in their 90s. There are fewer living Korean War vets with each passing day. Many of those who served in Vietnam are now in their 70s.
Take some time to listen to their stories, while there is still time to listen.
— Mark Harrison is a freelance contributor to The Times-Journal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.