By Brig. Gen. Kirk Vollmecke, Mission and Installation Contracting Command commanding generalOctober 8, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas (Oct. 7, 2013) -- Thirty-three men and women were packed and ready for their flight Sept. 27 at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Texas. The 33 were not a typical group of people heading onto a flight for a vacation or business. These 33 were special, and as they made their way through the airport people stopped and cheered. Members of the greatest generation, these 33 men and women were World War II veterans from across southern Texas loading on Honor Flight No. 9 to Washington, D.C.
I was humbled and honored to meet each one of the 33 veterans and hear their stories before they flew to our nation's capitol. These veterans served in both the European and Pacific theaters during World War II, and on nearly every battlefield from Normandy to Bastogne and Tarawa Island. Some were injured during the many battles they fought, and some were awarded decorations as high as the Silver Star, but all overcame adversity and the pain of war for love of country.
These 33 heroes are just a fraction of the more than 16 million who answered the call of this nation during World War II, and they witnessed more than 290,000 of their fellow Americans pay the ultimate price in combat. Few have suffered or endured the hardship and pain similar to those who have fought in war.
As I listened to their stories, I felt the pain of burdens carried for nearly 70 years in quiet reflection and internal struggle. Memorably, I listened to an Army nurse quietly weeping after my remarks to the 33 veterans. I felt touched by her pain, as I told her, "I am sorry for your burden, but I am eternally grateful that you held the hands of so many who died. I am comforted knowing it was your touch that brought peace and comfort to so many of our fallen who passed knowing that they did not die alone."
Honor Flight No. 9 and all the veterans from other wars that escorted these veterans were unified in common purpose and cause. As I reminded all from Honor Flight No. 9, "you are service members for life, and we are eternally grateful for your service."
President George Washington captured the true essence of remembering those who fought for us. He said, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." It is their treatment by everyday citizens and the respect and admiration of those citizens that impacts future generations to come. In the company of these 33 men and women, I found a renewed spirit of hope for our humanity and nation.
I can think of no better tribute than to recognize and thank each World War II veteran today, now and forever. This is your call to action. As citizens, please seek out these heroes and thank them for their love of country and their service. We owe the men and women of our greatest generation our deepest respect and sincere gratitude for their sacrifices, lifetime burdens and internal struggles. These men and women answered the call to arms with dignity and valor in a time of great need. We, as a nation, can never forget. Even more so, less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has served or currently serves in our nation's military. Consequently, we as citizens must do more to always remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and who shouldered the burden and pain of war so that all of us may enjoy greater peace and liberty.
As a Soldier for more than 29 years, I am so grateful to have met these incredible 33 men and women who served during World War II. They are quiet heroes emblematic of the qualities that make this nation so strong. As more and more World War II veterans pass each day, time is running out on our chance to hear the war stories of these patriotic Americans. As a nation, we must remember these all veterans who inspired so many of us to serve.
Recently, I met Andrew Carroll, the founder and director of the Legacy Project. His efforts to collect, edit and publish the war letters of heroes and family members bring to life these amazing stories. These intimate readings pay tribute to our veterans and ensure we will never forget their stories. It is their stories that must be told and listened to now.
Veterans Day is approaching, and I challenge all Texans and Americans alike to do their part to make this holiday a most memorable one. On Nov. 11, 2013, I will be at the Buffalo Soldiers Memorial Event and National Cemetery. I ask everyone from Military City USA to come out and honor the veterans who fought for this great nation for all future generations. I encourage each citizen to participate in Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Celebrate America's Military ceremonies while considering sacred duties of trust and commitments to never forget those who served our nation.
Our nation has been at war for more than 12 years. Please never forget our military members who serve and support our country today so future generations can continue to have liberty and peace paid for by all veterans. Please seek out veterans and thank them and all those who have served. May we never lose our profound respect and humility for those who sacrificed so others may enjoy freedom and liberty.