Win Harper | Life and Leadership Coach

2014 Finger Lakes Community College Veterans Day Speech

FLCC Veterans Day Speech 11/11/2014

Thank you.  Thank you for inviting me to speak today.  There are almost 200 veterans enrolled in your college, and there are thousands of others in the local community, and there are millions throughout the United States.  Today we pause to honor them by simply saying Thank You!

Here is something important to know about veterans, and active duty service members, we don’t see serving our country as a sacrifice; we see it as an HONOR!
We serve because we believe in our country, we believe it is the right thing to do, and we believe it is important.

And, we are not the only ones serving.  I remember seeing a Pogo cartoon in our local newspaper that had one frame; it showed a woman in a rocking chair knitting a scarf in front of a fireplace at Christmas time.  There was a picture of a young man in uniform on her mantel.  The caption read, “They also serve who only sit and wait.” I remember when was in Vietnam 1967-68, I did not understand how my parents, family, and friends were affected by my service in combat.  I didn’t realize till much later that they also served. Military spouses especially serve hard to support their families, pay the bills, and maintain their homes.  They serve by enduring the uncertainty not knowing if their loved ones will return, and they serve by steadfastly keeping their loved ones alive in their hearts, and the hearts of their families. The same is true for all family members, loved ones, and friends.  If you are a military spouse, a family member, father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter of a service member or veteran, or if you are a friend or a loved one of a service member or veteran.  Thank you for your service and your support!!!!

We need your support; we would not or could not do what we do without it. 

We are all in this together.

Here is another important thing to know about Veterans, there is a special bond among us that is developed while we are on active duty, and especially in combat.  That bond holds combat units together, and is necessary for an effective fighting force. And, that bond does not end with our active service. As Veterans, we join the VFW, the American Legion, the Colleges Vet Club, and the Marine Corps League, and we go to reunions of our units. I meet once a month for lunch with local Marines.

For some Veterans their military service was the pivotal moment in their lives. We remember the day we enlisted, our Drill Instructors names, and the day we graduated from boot camp, all of our duty stations, and everyone we served with.  We fly the American Flag and the MIA flag, we put decals on our cars, we wear baseball caps, we stand at attention when the American Flag is passing by, we put our hands over our hearts when we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and we sing the words to our National Anthem.  When taps is played; we cry. We cry for our brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives for us.  We cry because we remember them, our friends, their names, their stories, their dreams, their hopes, and their sacrifice.  We remember, honor, and miss them.

Here is an good example of how deep that bond is: A few years ago I watched a documentary about the Men who survived the sinking of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.  1177 sailors and Marines lost their lives and our entombed on the ship; 337 survived.  Some of the survivors, who are now in their late 80s and early 90s, have made arrangements upon their passing to be cremated and their ashes be returned to their ship.  The National Park Service holds a ceremony after the memorial is closed and scuba divers take the urns and place them into the USS Arizona in order that these men, so far 34, are able to spend eternity with their shipmates!

Here is another important thing to know about Veterans. We find it hard to talk about and explain what we did.  We have our own jargon that does not translate well into civilian language.  We have 782 gear, Lines of Departures, MREs, FMF, MOS, Final Protective Fires, H&I fires, and Chain of Command. We have so many acronyms that many of us have forgotten what they stand for.
How many of you have seen the movie, “A Few Good Men”? I like the movie not just because it was about Marines, but for this one poignant scene.  Demi Moore’s character is asked about the Marines she is defending in a court-martial:

Lt. Weinberg: Why do you like them so much?

Her reply is:
Galloway: Because they stand upon a wall and say, “Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.”

THAT’S WHAT WE DO!!!!!  We stand upon a wall and say to you nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, NOT ON MY WATCH!!!

I would like the veterans to stand so we can recognize you. 

These are the men and women we are here to honor today.  They stood upon a wall, in combat and in peace, and said to us “Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.” These are the men and women from your school, your classmates, and your friends, your family members who took an oath to “support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”  These are the men and women who made a commitment to you that they would protect our country and our way of life.  These are the men and women who defended our Nation, and our rights “of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  And, they did it because it is an HONOR!

As you can probably tell a lot of us Veterans are no longer able to run up and down hills. Our bodies and our minds may not be as sharp as they used to be, but our bond to each other and our commitment to our Nation flows through our veins with each beat of our hearts.  We are imbued with the values of our service: duty, honor, country; honor, courage, commitment; integrity, service, excellence; honor, respect, devotion:  We live by our service mottos:  Semper Paratus and Semper Fidelis – Semper Fi. OORAH!!!!

Here is one more thing you need to know about veterans.  I remember when I came back from Vietnam in November 1968.  I was gone for 13 months and a lot had changed, including myself.  Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been assassinated.  There had been riots in Detroit.  People were angry and lashed out at returning service men.  I landed in Travis Air Force Base, and took a bus to San Francisco.  I was uncomfortable. I felt like I had landed in a foreign country.  I didn’t know how to act, feel, or think. All returning Veterans have similar experience.  We have just left our buddies, the women and men to our left and our right upon whom our lives depended.  While we are happy to be home, we also feel some guilt about leaving them.  We need to readjust to being back home.  That is why your support and understanding are so important to us.

You may not agree with where and why we are sent; that doesn’t matter, what does matter is that our friends, family, community, and Nation support our service.

Ceremonies like today are very special to us.  We are grateful for you support.  Now, I want to ask a favor of all of you here.  I ask that starting today when you see one of these Veterans in your classes, in the hallways, or on campus stop and simply say, “Thank you for their service.”  When you see a man or woman in uniform in Wegmans, at the airport, in a gas station, take a moment, stop them and say, “Thank you for your service.”  And, when you see an older veteran - we can be easily recognized by the way we carry ourselves, and by our hats, stop us and say, “Thank you for your service”

That simple gesture will make a difference in the lives of those who have served our Country, a difference in your life, a difference in our community, and a difference in our Nation.

Remember we are all in this together!!!!  This is OUR COUNTRY!!!!

May God bless you, and God bless the United States of America!

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Copyright 2009 by Win Harper.