FORT BLISS, Texas -- 24 years, nine months and 17 days.

That is the length of time Sgt. 1st Class (ret.) Marvin E. Switzer, a combat veteran with three tours to Vietnam, served in the United States Army, and all of those years came flooding back to his forethoughts with the arrival of a group of young noncommissioned officers, Sep. 14.

It was a day that bridged a gap of 60 years.

Old generations of servicemembers met with new when the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, Fort Bliss Chapter, joined World War II and Vietnam veterans for a ceremony in honor of former prisoners of war and those still missing in action. It was there at Ambrosio Guillen Texas State Veterans Home that servicemembers of past and present gathered in respect of a cause that bound them together -- service to their nation.

"In the end, some people get old and they look back on their life and they ask, what have they done with it," said SAMC member Staff Sgt. Michael Constantine as he sat in his full dress uniform. "Myself and these gentlemen will never have to ask that. There's no greater honor than serving your country."

The ceremony involved a color guard and an empty table signifying all those who gave their life in battle. It was a short tribute that reminded all those in attendance of the sacrifices made for freedom.

It was that empty table set for one, with a lonely burning candle, that set the stage for the stories, which were shared immediately following.

"[The experience] brought back a lot of memories," said Switzer.

Giant smiles from elderly veterans and their families greeted the group of young NCOs as they discussed the way things were and how they have changed.

"I thought to myself, 'I will never be as great as them,'" said Constantine, a 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, infantry squad leader. "I see myself in them, but most importantly, I think they see themselves in me. And then they have a bittersweet moment where they would never want to revisit the horrors of what they've seen, but they'd do anything to go back to those days."

There was a definite bond between the two groups, but it existed long before any of the SAMC members stepped foot into the veteran's home, said Constantine. The brother and sisterhood of the Armed Forces defy age.

"It's a matter of respect really," said Constantine. "No one gets left behind. I only hope one day someone wants to hear my stories."

For the time being, the stories of the veterans at Ambrosio Guillen will continue to be heard. As the SAMC members made their goodbyes for the evening, they left with a solemn promise -- "we will return."

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