Veterans Day: The Real Heroes

Air Force on Veterans Day

KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea  -- Veterans Day is coming. I remember marching in the Veterans Day parade in San Angelo, Texas, last year. And I remember my feelings as if that parade was yesterday.

As my formation wound its way along the route, I was amazed to see the size of the crowds. It seemed the entire town came out to honor us and all veterans. I was proud and humbled that so many were so appreciative of the service of so few, me included.

What humbled me most was the sight of older veterans on the sidewalks standing at attention as stiff as boards, sharply saluting the young airmen riding on a parade float in front of me. These battle-hardened warriors of World War II, Korea and Vietnam honored us as if we had fought and won wars many times tougher than their own. They honored us as if their service and sacrifice pales in comparison to ours.

I can't imagine the hardships and atrocities these heroes endured in Europe and in the Pacific. One gentleman I spoke with flew 77 combat missions and was wounded numerous times. He bailed out of his aircraft as it plummeted toward the earth and lost many of his friends along the way. Now that's a hero.

There he was on the sidewalks of downtown San Angelo, saluting technical training students as they passed by on a parade float, airmen who graduated from Basic Military Training only weeks or days before.

My regret? I wanted to run up to them. All of them. I wanted to shake their hands and let them know we also appreciate their service. I wanted to tell them they have earned the right many times over to receive our salutes honoring them. I wanted to express what a great privilege it is to serve in the tradition of heroes. But I didn't. I couldn't. I was in formation. And I have a feeling that if I had sought to honor them in such a way, they would have been embarrassed by the attention. They would have reminded me of the unwavering commitment and dedication of those marching in the parade on that day. Such is the way with heroes.

It is my prayer that next year at this time, you have returned home from this assignment, and your family can march proudly together as one by one, thousands of fellow Americans honor you for what you and your family do to keep America strong and free.

You might not have marched in that parade last year. You might not have been saluted.

You might not have been recognized or thanked for your service at all. But never doubt what you do matters. Never wonder whether your commitment is appreciated. Never question whether your sacrifices are honored. Never waiver in your dedication to service. You are faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor and a legacy of valor.

You serve in the tradition of heroes.

God bless you and Happy Veterans Day.

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