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CHICAGO — As a retired United States Marine Corps veteran — even though the word on the street is that Marines never retire — I thought that since Memorial Day was just last week, I would share some of my thoughts and observations with you.
My 27 years of military service does, in some respects, provide me with the opportunity and credentials to share.
I hope that each of you took time out to acknowledge those in your organization who have honorably served in our military. Your acknowledgement should have been shared not only with those who actually served, but also with those who supported this person: their family — mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, etc.
I recall quite vividly the day I received my orders to Vietnam in 1968. I lived in a trailer park outside of Camp Lejeune, N.C., and was just recently promoted to corporal (E-4). I had just completed jungle warfare training, and had found out a month prior that I was expecting to be a father. In order to pay bills, we had to search for pop bottles to turn in for cash, as military folks in those days didn’t bring home much money. Thank goodness things are better now.
I will admit that I was a pretty hardcore Marine, but I’ll tell you that the following 14 months were gut-wrenching — not because I was in the middle of direct combat situations, but more because I was away from home with limited or no communication. Again, things are better now.
I’m fortunate that I came home fully intact, with only a few permanent scratches, and finally got to see my new baby girl, who was recently wed. However, as life goes on, I will never forget my friends who didn’t come home.
I realize this sounds sad, but think for a moment about our friends and relatives who served in World War II — no communication for periods of up to three years, with the exception of letters that were usually 30-45 days old. Families wouldn’t be notified of the death or injury of a loved one until many months after the fact.
We acknowledge what it is that the veteran has given us. It’s not the campus organizer who’s given us the right to assemble. It’s not the lawyer who’s given us the right to a fair trial. It’s not the politician who’s given us the right to vote. It’s the veteran who salutes and serves under the flag who makes all these things possible.
I can only guess at how my experience compares to the many thousands of men and women who are in virtually the same predicament. My heart and prayers go out to everyone even remotely associated.
With all that being said, I hope all of you had a great Memorial Day, and I hope that if you had the chance, you acknowledged in some way those who have made the sacrifice to keep all of us safe, and even more importantly that you took a few minutes to pay tribute in some fashion to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.