The first topic of conversation when two vets meet for the first time usually involves their shared military experiences. Beyond that, some choose to bind themselves in veterans organizations.
What follows is a reflection for Veterans by a veteran on our special day. Civilians are welcome to tag along.
Veterans I’ve met, especially from the draft era (1973 and before), almost without exception remember with nostalgia their days of military service. This I find amusing since many were drafted reluctantly, although a few joined voluntarily and some even stayed in for a career. That speaks volumes in affirming their generally positive experience.
Veterans, especially those serving as youngsters, found the military to be a sort of finishing school as they transitioned from adolescence into adulthood. Many who wished to elude the draft were motivated to enlist in other services to avoid the rigors of Army field duty. Some people were never aware that the draft also populated the other services though not to the extent as with the Army. Either way, the vast majority served honorably much to their credit.
Remember the Friday night “GI parties” in preparation for Saturday morning inspection? They weren’t necessarily fun, but they were a shared experience teaching us, among other things, to work as a team to accomplish the mission.
Those “parties” served another purpose. In preparation for the inspection of personal and unit equipment they taught us to keep our gear in tip top shape ready for immediate use. Individuals who performed well in the inspection were rewarded with a pass for a Saturday night on the town. The inspections also taught us the value of cleanliness and sanitation. In retrospect, many an army has been defeated because of illness, disease and incompetence.
Unit readiness, of course, held a high priority. Equipment readiness, personnel readiness and training readiness consumed most of our days. Equipment including vehicles and weapons had to be maintained and ready for deployment. Personnel readiness determined how many people were available for deployment.
Training readiness involved individual, small unit and large unit training. We were always training. In peacetime we were training for the next fight and exercising plans. In wartime we trained between engagements.
We all had a role to play in mission accomplishment. “Deadlined” equipment; personnel in jail, AWOL or sick; and poor training all detracted from unit readiness.
TREASURE ISLAND - COINS AND PRECIOUS METALS
NCOs and officers were held accountable for unit readiness. By and large, they had the success of their units and the welfare of their men at heart. Most reached their rank through hard work and skill in keeping their people and units fit to fight.
Some servicemen and women were just not cut out for the authoritarian military structure. Nevertheless, the large majority served honorably, then moved on to succeed in the civilian sector. Because of their military service they carried with them what had been instilled through training: a sense of discipline, obedience, punctuality and orderliness.
Friends made in the service lasted for years. Reunions kept many comrades in touch. Even the most hard bitten officers and NCOs mellowed with time. Shared experiences in good times and bad provided the bond.
Veterans also share different perspectives of the era in which they served. World War II vets returned home to a tumultuous welcome. Korea was termed “The Forgotten War” and vets returned almost unnoticed. Veterans from the Vietnam era were treated shabbily compared to other eras. Rudyard Kipling’s words from his poem “Tommy” come to mind.
“For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’
But it's ‘Saviour of 'is country’ when the guns begin to shoot…”
Veterans from the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan fared much better.
Through the years the equipment and force structure changed and policies were adapted to the modern age. Younger men and women replenished the ranks replacing those who went before them. But the ideals of mission, readiness, discipline and the close sense of camaraderie remain timeless.
All veterans from current and bygone decades should expect a well-deserved salute from their peers. More importantly, they merit the heartfelt thanks of a grateful nation this Veterans Day.