Veterans served for freedom, country
November 15, 2012
Veterans Day celebrations this year began in a special way Nov. 9 for residents and staff at the Lawton-Fort Sill Veterans Center.
In attendance were veterans who had served from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars and more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some were residents of the center, while others were family members and staff; but they all shared a common connection having served as members of the armed forces of the United States. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, all branches, were represented during the ceremony.
The keynote addresses for the Veterans Day celebration were delivered by Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, and Oklahoma State Sen. Don Barrington, from Lawton.
McDonald began by thanking the veterans for helping make it possible for Americans to have such a wonderful place to live.
"We have a country that is free, and safe; clean drinking water, electricity in our homes 24-hours a day; a police force that doesn't extort the people they are paid to protect," said McDonald. "We take all of those things for granted, and we should be able to take them for granted. But all of that didn't come without a price."
The general went on to say veterans have paid a heavy price to protect this country and its freedoms, and keep a standard of living that keeps this the greatest nation on earth.
"That came on the backs of our veterans who we have here, their sacrifices, their deeds and heroism go unrecognized most days. But this is the weekend we will take the opportunity to recognize them," he said.
Barrington, an Army veteran from the Vietnam era, expressed his feelings of gratitude for those in attendance.
"Most veterans are ordinary folks like you and me. They go into harm's way without seeking fame or recognition. That's why we celebrate Veterans Day to give those who served the recognition that they deserve."
Barrington added he believes Veterans Day should be a much more significant day of honor, because it is only through the bravery and heroism of those who have served in uniform for our country that we have the freedoms to even have a day like Veterans Day.
"This is so much more than just a day off from work. It should be for all Americans a day to honor, to show respect and thanksgiving to those who gave so much both past and present."
McDonald recounted the events that led up to President Woodrow Wilson establishing a day to honor veterans some 94 years ago.
"From 1918, in the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month World War I came to an end. We celebrated that day as Armistice Day, and it turned into Veterans Day later. It recognizes the service of our veterans to our country," McDonald said. "It's hard to imagine what the trench warfare of World War I was like, with artillery barrages, machine gun fire and barbed wire everywhere. It was called "The war to end all wars," but we know it wasn't, because in less than 20 years our young Soldiers were on the same battlefields in Europe to keep the world safe from tyranny and oppression. Fascism was trying to take over and doing an awfully good job of it. American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines pulled together, fought in Europe and in the Asian Pacific theaters and set the stage for this era of new hope and prosperity our country has experienced."
McDonald went on to talk about the sacrifices military personnel have made since World War II, in the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the conflicts in more recent years.
"Some of you served in those wars, so you understand what I am talking about. You know what sacrifice is; you know how tough it is to keep this country safe and strong. But you've been willing to stick it out and do what was necessary, and for that we are absolutely proud of you," he said.
"The image of the American veteran is changing a bit. Over the past 11 years we have been at war. We have more young veterans now than we have had since the Vietnam War. Over 130,000 Soldiers, both active-duty and Reserve, will leave the military this year, and they will enter the ranks of veterans. They are out there, and we are proud of them, just like they are proud of you, the people who led them. Your uncommon and unwavering strength is what sets veterans apart from the rest of [our] citizens," McDonald said.
In closing, the general touched on some of the efforts the Army is initiating to help Soldiers transitioning out of the military. One is the Vow to Hire Heroes Act that Congress passed that gives tax incentives for employers to hire veterans. Also, Fort Sill was a pilot site for a complete revamping of the Transition Assistance Program. It helps Soldiers transitioning to civilian life find jobs by learning how to prepare resumés, search for jobs they are qualified for and know what to expect during interviews.
"Our effort is to make post-Army life for our current veterans much better than it has been in the past, and to give them the opportunity to quickly assimilate back into their communities," McDonald said.
In closing, McDonald paid tribute to those veterans in attendance and their selfless sacrifices.
"On a day like today we know that, in the Oklahoma breeze, our colors will fly free because of veterans like you. So thanks for everything you've done and for what you stand for. On behalf of all service members at Fort Sill, we thank you tremendously."