Through The Lens: Letters to Veterans
Recently, I attended a Veteran’s program at the New Martinsville Middle School. By the time the program began, I estimated nearly fifty veterans were going to be in attendance.
It began with breakfast that was donated by local businesses. As we enjoyed the meal, we had a chance to talk and exchange stories of which branch we served in and when. It was an enjoyable time spent with some that I have known for a lifetime and others that I met for the first time.
Next came the formal program which was held in the gym. Not long after we entered, the students joined us. After we were welcomed, the National Anthem was played. It was followed by the Cub Scouts honor guard presenting the flag and leading the room in the Pledge of Allegiance.
A poem was next read by Aly Stillwagner. Her reading was followed by the 7th and 8th grade choir singing “My America.” Students from the 5th and 6th grade then sang “It’s a Grand Old Flag.”
The program concluded with a trumpet playing taps just out of view of the gathering. In all, the program was a very nice tribute to the gathered veterans. I enjoyed seeing young people taking time from their studies to honor those veterans who attended.
But, I will have to admit as much as I enjoyed the program that’s not what I will remember about the day. You see, when we entered the gym a couple student hosts handed me three sealed envelopes, two homemade cards, and several hand colored pictures. I glanced into one card and saw a short message. It thanked veterans for their service. I did not open the sealed envelopes not wanting to take a chance of dropping them through the bleachers.
After the program concluded and we were leaving, those same two student hosts offered me a handful of unopened envelopes and more hand colored picture cards. There were more student letters and cards than veterans in attendance. I smiled and thanked them.
At home, I sat at the table with Mary and began to read. I opened and read all the envelopes and handmade cards. The letters were mostly short with one or two paragraphs. They all expressed a desire to thank veterans for their military service. Some wrote of the dangers veterans must have faced. Others told of their relatives who were also veterans.
Five of the letters wanted more than to thank veterans for their service. They also wanted the recipient of their letter to answer some questions. Being the veteran who was lucky enough to read their letter, I felt I had an obligation to answer the questions posed by these young writers.
So, I am going to use my column to answer some of their questions. Maybe it will help them to know veterans appreciate their interest in our military lives.
My first answer is to both Bryley and Hunter. They wanted to know what branch of the service I served in. That’s an interesting question. I first joined the Navy in high school wanting to learn a trade as a welder. It is said the Navy has some of the finest welders in the world. Unfortunately, the recruiter told me I would have to wait until I got through boot camp until I was assigned a career. Shortly after that, a recruiter from the Air Force came along and told me if I switched from the Navy to the Air Force he could get me into welding school. Sounded good to me. A few months later, I was in Texas where I went through basic training. When I finished and received my orders I had been assigned to a medical group. So ended my welding career in the military.
Emersyn asked if I was ever in combat. No, my entire career was spent at a base in the southwest. The military is made up of many different jobs. Some are dangerous and send people into harm’s way. While others are support jobs that may not put the person in imminent danger, but their jobs are essential to those who are on the front lines. If you remember, I told Bryley and Hunter that I wanted to be a welder. At first, I was disappointed when I was placed in the hospital squadron. But, there we helped wounded Vietnam Veterans who had returned home disfigured. Combat injuries can prevent a person from doing things we take for granted – speak, be able to eat food or simply smile. The people who served in my unit may not have been on the frontlines, but I believe our jobs were very important. Back then, as now, veterans sometimes need help and support when they return home.
My next letter is from Connor and he asked if I am still in the military. He also explained one of his grandfathers was in Vietnam and the other was in the Navy. He went on to say he enjoys music and would like to make that his career. Conner explained some of his friends want to join the service, but he doesn’t see that in his future. He closes by thanking veterans for enabling him to choose the life he wants.
Conner, my military career has been over for a long time. Being in the military gave me a since of pride that is still with me today. I believe all veterans carry this with them. As to you deciding what you would like to do with your life, that often has a way of taking care of itself. But, I am sure whatever you decide now or later, you will be the very best at whatever you do. We all have a place and finding it is part of the journey.
Next was an open card from Abbi. She explained most people think heroes are Ironman and Captain America. She pointed out a veteran can’t fly or shoot beams out of his hands. But they have the power and strength to defend our country. She also wrote, ‘Be brave and strong and trust God.’
Abbi, your words tells me you are a caring person and have a strong belief in faith. You are right in your words that heroes are all those men and women who defend our country. But it is also important to remember heroes are all around you every day – teachers, fireman, policeman, doctors, nurses. The list of important careers goes on and on. Just like in the military it takes all of us to keep this country strong and free.
My last question is from Ayden who writes about courage veterans have. He wonders if he has that kind of courage. Ayden, I believe courage is many things. There is the kind that a soldier has when in combat. They may be so frightened they do things they never thought they could do. Did they always have that kind of courage inside? Maybe. You will find as you go out into the world it takes many kinds of courage to be part of this thing we call the human race. Someday, you may need courage when a loved one is sick. That courage will give you faith to fight the fear you may be feeling. There is the kind you may need to stand up for what you believe, when others are telling you not to. Courage comes in many forms, I think you have more than you know.
Reading the letters from these students has given me a renewed since of optimism. I have too often thought young people are only interested in their phones and electronic games. But, in these letters to veterans I see hope, I feel a little better about the future as I look Through the Lens. God Bless America.