In time for Veterans Day this year, we asked: What lessons have veterans taught you? How have they changed your life? Here are some of the responses we received.
Not Possible to Repay
My father fought with Patton in WWII. My son fought in Iraq. I was a lucky father because my son returned alive. My uncles fought against our enemies either directly in the military or service through the Merchant Marines. My great-great-grandfather was at Gettysburg. They all had one thing in common: they fought to preserve a way of life that most of us take for granted. They all risked their lives to make ours safer and better.
My father’s sacrifice gave me the ability to go to school rather than going off to war. It allowed me to achieve a professional degree which feeds and supports my family to this day. Working as an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon at the VA Hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia, is a blessing. After 34 years in private practice, I consider working for our Veterans to be the highlight of my career—an honor.
Our Veterans stepped up. They met the call that our Nation sent and have put themselves in harm’s way for us. I see them every day, the few remaining from WWII, the dwindling numbers from Korea, and those returning from Vietnam. Many much younger from our continued struggles with war in the Middle East.
Our Vietnam Veterans had to fight a war overseas as well as when they returned home. A travesty our Country should never forget. Men and women who carry external and internal scars from war, all lasting for the remainder of their lives.
Many soldiers move on from the ravages of war; many of them don’t as their minds linger in turmoil. I’ve written a novel about our Vietnam Veterans and what they had to deal with when they returned. People say it’s a good book, but my book can never tell the real story that any one of our Veterans went through. We should all listen better and care better out of respect for what they have done for us.
Soldiers continue to return from battle. America always steps up. The Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Operation of Infinite Reach, Afghanistan, Iraq, War in Northwest Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Uganda, Syria, Yemen, Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Afghanistan, and many unknown shores. Some say we have no business going to these places. The American soldier doesn’t get to make that choice. They just continue to step up. We Americans owe our military a debt to honor, respect, and care for them for the rest of their days. Thank God for America and the American Soldier.
Dr. Eric Redmon
I was in the cafeteria one day at the Veterans Hospital in Buffalo, NY, where I had been working for a few years. I noticed a man walking around and waving a piece of paper. No one was paying any attention to him, but I was wondering what he needed. I asked if I could help him and he said he needed a copy of the paper he had in his hand. I said that I could help him and went back to my office and made him a copy of that precious paper which turned out to be the affirmation that he had been a prisoner of war from World War II. He thanked me and, being a WWII buff, I asked him a few questions.
It seems that the former prisoners were in line to receive some government benefits and he needed this copy to complete his paperwork. I became more interested in the programs for the ex-POWs and was asked to
attend some of their meetings.
It seems that these men never told their stories to anyone. When they came home from the service, they went to work, got married and raised their families, tucking their horrors away in a corner of their minds.
I was asked if I would be interested in writing about their experiences and I agreed. It seems that the man whose paper I had copied was a teenager when he was drafted and sent to Germany in late 1944. He was captured and sent to a prison camp where he endured torture, starvation and beatings. The one incident that stuck out in his mind was that it was Christmas and he, for some reason, got hit in the face by a rifle butt.
He remembered all the beautiful holidays he had spent when he was growing up and the only thing that kept him going were the songs he favored. He said while fellow prisoners were thinking about food, he was
thinking of songs. He wrote the titles down in the back of a New Testament he was able to keep. His favorite was “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
When the war was winding down, some of the men were able to walk away from the camp. When he finally got home and the family sat down to dinner and the ex-prisoner started to mention his experiences, his father said, “Don’t, talk about it, son.”
I was the first one he ever told his story to. I was honored. Several other men related their stories to me. Some were in the Bataan Death March and imprisoned in the Philippines, then put on Death Ships to Japan where
they were forced to work in the coal mines where they were beaten and starved. One veteran gave me his entire story of his capture, of being jammed into cattle cars and imprisoned in Italy and Germany.
I must say I love the veterans. After all their suffering, they came back and led decent lives and appreciated our beautiful America even more.
Our Iron Island Museum in Buffalo, NY has a room dedicated to the Military where we have many uniforms and artifacts regarding all our veterans. We have had many services in the museum where all have the chance to tell their story. I must say they are all very humble and reluctant to speak about their prison experiences, but one thing they all have in common is they are always hungry. Those hunger pangs from years of starvation never leave.
I was lucky to get their stories in print for future generations to realize what these men went through to protect our freedom.
The lesson that I learned from these ex-prisoners and all the other great veterans I was honored to meet in my 20 years at the Buffalo Veterans Hospital, was to never give up. I fly my flag at my home and the museum
just received the donation of a Purple Heart Flag, and I asked why the Prisoners of War were not eligible for Purple Hearts, but that is another story to pursue. My life has changed greatly because of these brave men.
I was always patriotic, but my experiences at the hospital and meeting these men and hearing their stories made me appreciate my life and freedom in the United States of America more and I will always honor them in any way that I can.
Marge Thielman Hastreiter
The veterans in my life specifically, my father, Larry W. McCully (Army), my uncle Johnny R. McCully (Seabees), taught me patriotism: to stand for the flag, to be grateful for the freedoms I have, and the ultimate sacrifice many paid for me to have those freedoms. As my children grew up, going to Papa’s house was always a highlight, and they were taught as I was to raise, lower, and fold the flag with respect.
My mother and father were instrumental in organizing reunions of the 45th Infantry Fox Company. With joy, they spent many hours locating soldiers of dad’s company and reuniting them. These reunions were especially meaningful and healing as the men had not seen each other in years or even knew some they had carried off in stretchers had survived. When I was able to attend one of these reunions with my dad, the stories they shared which instilled in me further patriotism were ones of strength, faith, and pride in helping their country and their brothers.
But one of the greatest lessons my dad taught me and that I try to teach my grandchildren is we live in the greatest country with the most freedoms, and we should not forget it, protect it, and be proud of it.
The word “hero” is grossly overused in our society. To call someone a hero for going to work during a pandemic is silly to me.
To me, a hero is a person who runs full on into danger regardless of what it means to them, even if it means losing their own life. Veterans are heroes to me. They, like my father and a number of uncles, were drafted, and went without question; or they signed on the line, like many of my other family members. Some of them have served, some are still serving, without regard for their own life.
If it wasn’t for veterans who were willing to defend, fight, and die for us and our country, we may likely be a German-speaking country right now. We owe our freedom to those men and women who are so moved to serve our country. And serve, they do. They do as they are ordered, and they do it with heart.
Many return home, but are they whole? They see things in battle that they can never un-see. They are plagued with ghosts for the rest of their lives. Some return home in a box, having died for their country. I will never be able to hear “Taps” without crying.
Veterans, to me are true heroes. As an American woman, I would not have the freedom that I have if it weren’t for them. They have shown me that this country is worth the fight. In a conversation with my dad, I made a comment that our country is a mess. His response was (and I paraphrase here) “even if that is true, people are still fighting to get in so it must be better than a lot of others, or they wouldn’t want it so badly.”
I do get frustrated with our government, as we all do; but I could never imagine living anywhere else. I consider myself red, white, and blue to the core. I still get chills when I see Old Glory in the wind. I will forever stand with my hand on my heart when I hear the National Anthem. Veterans have shown me that Patriotism must be revived, and must never die. We need to stand together as “ONE NATION, UNDER GOD WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.”
To my father, my many uncles, my sister-in-law, my niece, my nephews; I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
As the proud daughter of a deceased Navy veteran of WWII, I feel extremely blessed that my father instilled in me patriotism for the greatest country in the world, the United States of America. My father taught me that service to God, family, and country is paramount if we want the freedoms our constitution affords us.
I am also proud that my husband served in the army for three years.
Tracing my genealogy and ancestry back to the American Revolution and the foundation of this country has instilled in me the sacrifices so many gave in service. Flying the flag, as we do every day by honoring it, sets an example for future generations.
Jim Brown, my friend and a Marine veteran, has markedly influenced my life. Jim, who survived the carnage of the Chosin Reservoir in Korea during the winter of 1950 as well as the ferocity of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in South Vietnam, has taught me the lessons noted below:
1. Judgment. Forget about the color of a person’s skin or the manner in which a person worships a higher Being judge people, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, according to the “merit of their character.”
2. Industry and Initiative. Cultivate the habits of hard work and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Frontally assault your challenges and accept failure as the beginning, not the end of your efforts. Patience and perseverance will prove indispensable in the long run.
3. Civic Commitment. Engage actively in your community and inform yourself about pivotal issues. Do something to resolve them. Immerse yourself in your community.
4. Praise America. Exalt the study of American history stressing the uniqueness of our country in the long and turbulent record of world civilization.
Jim’s record as a combat veteran and his productive role in the Memphis community continues to enhance my life.
John R.S. Robilio
My parents, now both deceased, served in the Army. My father, Dr. S.F. Ceplecha, served as a doctor in the Army. He was stationed first in Alaska; then, onto the European theater.
My mother, Mrs. S.F. Ceplecha, Ursula Rowena Fontenot, served as a nurse in the Army. She was stationed primarily in New Guinea. She arrived just after the Bataan Death March. She and her unit took care of the survivors. I remember her commenting on how they did not have penicillin to treat the wounds caused by the bamboo brush that the soldiers were forced to match through.
My father had his picture in most of the newspapers in the country administering blood to a soldier while in Alaska. One of the newspapers, the Galveston paper, had his picture on the front of the paper… if my memory serves me correctly.
They met in California for their training, fell in love, betrothed to each other, went off to their respective theaters of war; and, then after the way, were married in Chicago in the downtown cathedral.
For my siblings, the example of hard work, love of country, and dedication to one’s profession was and is still carried on. Some of my siblings and now nephews have served in the military and are serving at this time.
“Great and getting better!” Dad knew no other response to the question of how he was doing. As a kid, I enjoyed his enthusiasm. As a teenager, I rolled my eyes. As an adult, I have incorporated his philosophy into my life.
Dad credited his optimism to his time in the Navy. He was a 19-year-old sailor aboard the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Having been ashore drinking the night before, he was permitted to sleep late that Sunday morning. When his battleship partially capsized during the attack, the men in the bottom cabins were now close to the top. For a day and a half, he and his seven other mates tapped out S-O-S on the pipes. The rescuers—Dad always called them the real heroes of the day—cut through the ship and liberated the compartment. Thirty-two men survived from the USS Oklahoma, and my dad was one of them. “I’m living on borrowed time,” he told people when he recounted the story. And then bellowed a grateful laugh.
He never wasted a moment of that borrowed time. Upon returning from his six-year stint in the Pacific, Dad went to college—something he never dreamed of doing before the GI Bill—where he met my mother. He set out to enjoy life. For him, that meant settling down into a nice suburban life and raising three children.
Family was his priority. Period. “Charity begins at home,” he noted. “And more or less stays there.” He didn’t mean that to be uncaring—quite the contrary. He had enough faith in mankind to assume people knew best how to handle their lives without meddling from others. If a person asked for assistance, he was more than generous; but he did not impose his will on others.
Regarding the fighters who bombed his ship, Dad shrugged, “They were just doing their jobs.” Later in life, he made an unsuccessful attempt to find some of the Japanese who attacked the United States that infamous day; he wanted to shake their hands and wish them well. Dad didn’t know how to hold a grudge.
Ever the optimist, he found good in everything. When he was a young boy growing up during the Depression, he worked as a farm hand spreading manure to fertilize the land. “With all that manure,” he observed, “there had to be a pony somewhere!” He often used that phrase during his foray into politics.
Dad was an awful politician; he was too honest. When he was pushed from his position by people who craved power over service, he observed, “You win some, you lose some, and I’ve done both.”
The lessons Dad taught me have a profound impact on my life. When he walked me down the aisle, he was delighted that I had found my soulmate. “A marriage made in heaven!” he often proclaimed. Dad’s delight in his grandchildren was contagious, helping me to see the wonder in new life and the importance in continuing his optimism and generosity.
I wonder what Dad would think about the current state of affairs in the United States. He would certainly find something good. Like himself, he knew America is always “Great and getting better!”
Growing up, my family was a military family. My father was a career Naval officer who served in the Pacific during WW II. All of us kids were given two options when graduating high school: college or the military. Three of us chose the military. I did my time with the Navy in the Pacific for six years on guided missile destroyers.
As kids, we were taught service to the country. Support the country. Respect the country. I never gave my service a second thought. But that changed when professional athletes started kneeling in protest when the national anthem was played at sporting events. I became disgusted at the hypocrisy and disrespect that was shown to our nation and those who served. The sports pros don’t appreciate that this is the only country in the world where they can make millions of dollars a year chasing a ball and whine about the country they live in. All made possible by the sacrifices of the men and women in uniform. We stand on the shoulders of giants who fought and died for this country so they could chase a ball.
Now, when someone tells me they are a veteran, I hand out challenge coins thanking them for their service. When dining out, if my wife and I meet a veteran, we’ll pay for their drinks or meal. We both wear the American flag lapel pin. In public, I wear shirts with pro-American messages and flags. I’ll stand nose to nose with anyone who wants to tell me what’s wrong with this country versus what’s great about America and those who served. The only disappointment comes from those who walk by me and whisper that they appreciate someone that publicly supports this county. They are afraid they will be ridiculed if they speak out loud.
A final note. My father served on a landing craft, LST, at Iwo Jima. He never said anything about it until he and I were watching a John Wayne war movie. That’s when my father, 88 years old at the time, said, ‘There really are shifting sands on Iwo Jima.” I asked him how he would know. He then proceeded to tell me about his service during WW II. Up until that moment, for all of my adult life, he had never said a word about it.
Back in 2013, I read an article about the cremains of a veteran being laid to rest in a “cardboard box.”
I never really gave much thought to the end of life and the interment of a veteran, or for that matter, any person.
I thought to myself, a cardboard box, that is no way for a veteran to be laid to rest. I shared the story with my wife and she agreed and told me to do something about it!
My wife reached out to the Jacksonville National Cemetery (JNC) and asked if they would have a need for cremation urns. They were a bit taken back at first but after discussion the answer was absolutely YES! She obtained the dimensions for the urns and I began to get to work.
Initially I made 4 urns and delivered them to the cemetery, to our surprise they were interred in a month’s time. The cemetery contacted me asking if I would make more, and I proudly agreed. To date, my wife and I have made and donated over 500 cremation urns with no end in sight.
There is a lot more to this story but I won’t bore you with the rest. Being a veteran myself, this outreach has changed my life. They call me “The Urn Guy.”
I am hopeful someone else will read this article and get involved with their local National Cemetery and pay it forward.
Thank you and thanks for a great newspaper!
My father was a doctor in the military. When he retired and shortly before he died of cancer, he had reached the rank of Colonel and served at least 3 times in Iraq, Kuwait and Bosnia.
What I learned from my father is to be grateful and to have respect for the strengths of others. I had a photo of my father next to me when I would study to become a teacher and when I thought that things were challenging, I would see him standing in front of the Royal Palace doing guard duty with a big red X on it, and it puts things into perspective.
If you, as an individual, are willing to fight for or defend the values that you hold dear, this is beyond inspiring. To put your actions where your words are is very precious in our current times where most will post an opinion, but less are willing to act for what they value in a direction evoking positive change.
Thanks for your paper. I am thankful for its articles.
All the best,