By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterNovember 14, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 14, 2013) -- For 95 years, America has been celebrating veterans' service and sacrifice, and though Fort Rucker Soldiers had Nov. 11 off to spend time with friends and Family, several decided that their time was better spent with the Soldiers who came before them.
In conjunction with Covenant Hospice of Dothan and the Wiregrass Sergeants Major Association, Soldiers attending the NCO Academy visited local assisted-living facilities in Henry and Coffee Counties to show their respect to veterans and Family members.
For the past five years, Soldiers have visited Twin Magnolias Assisted Living Home, Henry Country Health and Rehabilitation Center, Dogwood Manor Assisted Living Home, and Enterprise Health and Rehabilitation. They speak with veterans about their experiences in WWII, and the Vietnam and Korean conflicts.
Erin Stevens, access representative with Covenant Hospice, said that the experience is always very emotional for many of the residents.
"I think it unites us and makes us remember the common cause of what our Soldiers do and what they have done for our freedom and our country," she said. "It is very important that we recognize our current military and our veterans. We want to make sure we honor those who fought over the years."
The Soldiers said they were honored to be among the older veterans, and both young Soldiers and older veterans became emotional as stories were shared throughout the day.
"It was really wonderful and uplifting to know that they are serving and they are willing to take the time to come and recognize those who have come before," said Elizabeth Bedsole, veteran spouse. "It really warms my heart. Veteran's Day makes me both happy and sad because (remembering) my husband, Hershel, so vibrant when he served for 23 years and to now be so feeble makes me so sad. But I am happy knowing that he was willing to serve and give his all."
Stories of their varying treatment in public were shared among the Soldiers, but they all united under the hope for a better future for all service members.
"I hope after hearing some of these vets' stories it gives the younger Soldiers a shot of reality to never take for granted the appreciation that our nation has now for service members," said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Marlin Smith, president of the Wiregrass Sergeants Major Association.
Many veterans liked to see how diverse the Army and military has become since they served, while others did not wish to speak at all.
"Veterans usually don't like to talk a lot about their experiences, and that's why we need others to help us during difficult moments because we were taught to never complain and to deal with our own problems," said Smith.
Though several did not wish to speak about their time as Soldiers, most of them seemed to like the company of having other Soldiers nearby.
"I like to see the veterans' eyes light up when they see the Soldiers come in in uniform, and it inspires a little bit of life into (them)," said Smith. "Even if it is just for a little bit, it allows them to relive that time they spent in the military. For many, military service is the highlight of our lives, and no matter what we do after that time, that experience is always going to be there, and that service resonates for us the rest of our lives."
"Vietnam was one heck of a place," said Billy Brubaker. "I am proud of my service, but it's hard to think of the ones who never came back. But when you guys come around you are my Family, and some people don't understand that."
Smith added that spending the day with the veterans really humbles Soldiers because they can see the deep-rooted pain some of them bear.
"They have suffered so much and sacrificed so much for our nation, you can't help but let it touch you in some way," he said.
Its wasn't all sadness, though. The group accidentally played matchmaker by encouraging talk between the residents. When WWII veteran Bob Bolin revealed that he still loved to dance, another resident said she would love to join him next time he went out to hear a local band and he promised to take her.
It is that type of behavior that Staff Sgt. César Castro, NCOA, said he was hoping to see.
"I love talking to the veterans and hearing all of their crazy stories from their time in the service, and spending time with them was reason enough to give up a day off," he said. "You get to hear a lot of wisdom from them. Honoring the older generations gave me another chance to do my own duty, and hearing some of their stories can really make a person choke up as well as laugh so hard."
Though the day was long as the Soldiers went from center to center, they never let their smiles or positive attitude diminish. One Soldier even said that the day truly made him feel like an American.
"This is really fulfilling for me because I do enjoy talking to the Soldiers, and I especially enjoy talking to the spouses because they are trying to take care of the Family on their own and handle their service member's business while they are away," said Sgt. Maj. Eric Wainwright, Directorate of Training and Doctrine sergeant major. "They don't get any type of training on how to handle all that, and they sacrifice just as much."
"If we forget those who came before, it is only a matter of time before we are forgotten ourselves, and a nation that forgets its heroes is a nation that will not succeed," he added.