Fort Rucker honors veterans
November 15, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 15, 2012) -- Hundreds of Soldiers and civilians gathered at Veterans Park as Fort Rucker honored its past and present service members Nov. 9 during a Veterans Day ceremony.
Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, and Aviation Branch Command Sgt. Maj. James H. Thomson Jr. laid a wreath during the ceremony to honor those that have served in the U.S. armed forces in the past and present.
"For the last century, we've celebrated our veterans on this day," said Mangum during the ceremony. "When the cannons of World War I were silenced, we thought we had fought the war to end all wars, but as history has proved, we still need our Soldiers.
"Today, our Soldiers are blessed to serve in a time when their service, sacrifice and commitment are recognized and truly appreciated," he said. "Too many of you know that has not always been the case."
Mangum went on to thank the veterans who never received a proper welcome home during their time in service, such as those who served during the Vietnam War, and veterans like Bob Giffin said that he felt the appreciation.
"I'm a Vietnam vet, so all of this has been delightful and heartwarming for them to welcome home the Vietnam veterans because we didn't get the same kind of welcome when we came home as other veterans did," he said.
Robert Cooper, Vietnam veteran and longtime friend of Giffin's, agreed and said he was glad to see changes in attitudes toward those who have served.
"This ceremony is very important to me as a Vietnam-era veteran to see that people have changed their attitudes from the way it was when we first came home in the 60s and 70s," said Cooper. "I think one of the reasons that we have such welcome home events for our current and younger warriors is because of the sacrifices that the guys from of my era made."
Cooper joined the Army in 1957 and served on active duty for 30 years, and continued his service to the military as a civilian contractor for more than 15 years after his retirement. He said that it's important for people to give recognition to those very few that have sacrificed for their country in one way or another.
"Only about 1 percent of the U.S. population has anything at all to do with the military and less than half a percent of the current population serves in the military," he said. "It's important to keep the patriotism alive and make people realize that freedom isn't free -- somebody's got to pay the price."
The price that those service members pay doesn't end with their service, according to Mangum.
It's something that is ingrained in veterans and something that shows in aspects of their lives.
"You can tell when you meet a veteran," he said. "You know there is something about the veteran that stands out. Whether it's the glimmer in their eye, the way they stand, their demonstration of patriotism and their respect for the American flag -- you can tell who's a veteran.
"We need to recognize that they are Soldiers for life," said Mangum. "We look to them to lead here at home just as they did when they were prosecuting our nation's wars."
Mangum asked how people can give back to those that have sacrificed for their nation when their time in service has ended, but said there is no one answer.
"It's a question that should come to mind each and every day. Not just on Veterans Day," he said. "The only answer that makes sense to me is to continue to thank them with each and every opportunity you get."
The U.S. currently has the youngest population of veterans since the Vietnam war, with almost half of those serving in the military between the ages of 22 and 30, according to Mangum. Almost 3 million young men and women have served since 9-11 and within the next five years, almost 500,000 Soldiers will leave the Army to return to civilian life.
Mangum said that the Army is developing programs to help these Soldiers transition into civilian life.
"The Army is developing programs to connect them with employment, education and health resources, and provide opportunities so they may continue to develop themselves as men and women of character and conviction who can and will continue to make a difference in our communities," he said.
He added that the local community should also show their appreciation to veterans by affording them opportunities by giving them employment opportunities.
"You'll have a tremendous asset by hiring a veteran and I promise you that they'll bring leadership, commitment and discipline to your workplace," said Mangum. "We owe veterans more than our silence, our memories and our thanks."