Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Princeton Time Opinion

November 11, 2011

Vets steadfastly serve, sacrifice for freedom

PRINCETON — Honor and courage were on display everywhere I looked Wednesday, as I was privileged to attend Concord University’s Veterans Appreciation Ceremony and presentation of the first Veteran Advocate of the Year Award to Major Gen. Allen Tackett.

After 48 years of military service, Tackett retired from the West Virginia National Guard as its adjutant general in January 2011. His accomplishments were many and magnificent, and his advocacy for veterans and active-duty military garnered deserved recognition from the University that was recently declared the most veteran-friendly four-year university in the nation by Military Times Edge magazine.

But, as a shameless people watcher, I could not help but notice the other, lesser known, veterans in the crowd who served their country proudly before forging new paths toward better futures by returning to extend their education.

In the audience, I found fellow writer and Princeton Times contributor, Scott Noble, who made a career in the military and has now committed his life to putting information, entertainment, creativity and joy back into the world around him. You may have seen his work as a reporter and columnist in The Concordian, or right here in the Times.

As we talked after the ceremony Wednesday, Scott shared that he’s working with CU officials to start tutoring classes designed specifically to serve veterans making the move from life in the military to days on the college campus.

Also in the audience, I spotted Tom Wise, who I unfortunately know only through others’ stories, but his history touched me deeply enough to stick in my overcrowded memory.

Wise survived one deployment to Iraq without major incident, but his second tour of duty changed his life forever.

As his unit patrolled Baghdad one fateful night, Wise was seriously wounded when an improvised explosive device detonated, destroying the Humvee in which he rode and claiming the unit’s fire team.

As he recovered, doctors told Wise to prepare for the reality that he would never walk again. Instead, Wise declared he would run, and he would play football.

Though his journey was difficult and painful, Wise will be a member of the Concord Mountain Lion football team that plays for its division championship Saturday at Callaghan Stadium.

Not far from where I spotted Wise, I also observed Thomas Hilliker, who serves as the senior drum major for Concord’s Mountain Lion Marching Band. An Army veteran himself, Hilliker directed his band members with precision and grace Wednesday.

Although I don’t know much of Hilliker’s personal story, I know that his experience in the Army and his observances of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America inspired him to arrange a special 9-11 tribute show for the Mountain Lion Marching Band to play in honor of veterans past and present.

I’m sure there were many other touching stories standing alongside me on that green lawn before the Marsh Administration Building Wednesday, but these three inspired me.

These men not only served their nation and the world, but they returned home determined to continue making the world a better place through their personal contributions. To me, their stories are the spirit behind Veterans Day.

Eighty-three years ago, Congress declared that Nov. 11, 1918 marked the “cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed.”

The day, which became known as Armistice Day in 1938, was established to be “commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding…”

Today, we know all too well that keeping peace at home sometimes means fighting the difficult battles abroad, but thanks to those brave men and women who offer their service and dedication in the quest for liberty and justice for all, Americans still have many, many reasons to give thanks on Veterans Day.

Whether they have fought opponents on the shores of Normandy, the swamps of Vietnam, the deserts of Iraq, the rocky cliffs of Afghanistan or against the dangers determined to take hold inside our own borders, American veterans have steadfastly served and sacrificed for their nation and the people who live in the freedom they were, and are, charged with protecting.

It is thanks to these strong service people and their dedication to defending the American dream that the rest of us may live the ideal.

We are free because they fought off the enemies who would attach the shackles of oppression and dictatorship.

We are free because they left their homes and loved ones to ensure those beloved places and people could still stand strong.

We are free because they promised to protect a nation and kept their word.

Their sacrifice and service have saved our world and preserved a way of life unique to this nation.

For these reasons and many more, we salute American veterans with everything from star-spangled banners and marching bands to textooks, tutoring sessions and football games on the gridiron.

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