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The Few Who Sacrifice for the Many

Over the years, I have written a lot about the days we reserve to honor our military veterans (Veterans Day and Memorial Day). Growing up in the years following World War II and then serving in Vietnam in my early twenties instilled in me a deep respect for our country, its people, and especially its veterans.

Most veterans of WW II didn’t talk about their experiences. Two of my uncles served in WW II, and I never heard them talk about it. Movies and re-runs on early TV created my impressions of WW II, which ended when I was one year old.  I loved them all, but one of my all-time favorites was the 1949 film Battle Ground, which portrayed soldiers as normal human beings with great courage.

Korean and Vietnam war vets also did not talk much about their war experiences, because when they returned, many people didn’t care to listen to them. Vietnam vets are often called the “forgotten vets.” I didn’t experience that when I returned to my home in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. People there respected veterans, because many folks from Kensington were vets or had family members who had served.

In Kensington, a blue-collar, hard-working factory neighborhood, the assumption was that you would serve in the military. If you didn’t volunteer, you would be drafted. Most 18-year-old boys back then didn’t plan for a career until they returned from their military experience. That is, if they returned. Obtaining a deferment was rare, because families frankly didn’t have the money to send their children to college or the connections to get them out of the draft. The thing is, most of the guys I knew didn’t want a deferment. They chose to serve their country.

Two friends of mine who I met shortly after the war are Vietnam vets. It wasn’t until we were in our sixties that I learned one had a bronze star, a silver star, and two purple hearts. The other had a bronze star. That’s how it is with most vets. Unless you ask, they won’t tell you about their experiences. Another friend I hung out with as a teen was a marine who served in Vietnam. He was a forward observer and lost three of his radiomen. Can you imagine having seen three of your friends killed?

My Vietnam experience was different from those of my friends. I was in the Air Force and stationed in the big city of Saigon. Sure, there were terrorist attacks and even an occasional rocket strike, but it was nothing like what the men and women in the jungles and frontlines experienced. I don’t wake up in a cold sweat from war-related nightmares or suffer from the debilitating effects of Agent Orange.

As Veterans Day approaches, I will watch some of the old classic war movies, like Patton, Midway, In Harm’s Way, Saving Private Ryan, and, of course, Battle Ground. I do this so I remember the sacrifices our veterans made. I never want to forget that. All four of my Mercy Row novels, which are crime stories, include veterans’ sub-stories in various wars from 1898 to 1975. It’s my way of honoring all veterans. I know veterans don’t care if you wave a flag in their face or give them a meal on Veterans Day. They just want to be remembered and have their families recognized for the sacrifices made by so few for the benefit of so many. 

Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.

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