Each Memorial Day I am reminded of our veterans' sacrifice and the cost to protect our way of life and I am deeply grateful for it. It hasn’t always been that way.
When I was growing up Memorial Day was the holiday when summer began. A day to watch parades, listen to speeches and place flags on veterans’ graves. It was easy to take for granted the sacrifices of those we were honoring because we had not known them personally.
The controversial Vietnam War was the defining event of my generation. In 1964 I was rocking to the Beatles and soul music. In 1968 I was drafted and deployed to Bin Dinh province, Republic of Vietnam serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Back home the nation was extremely divided.
I came home to Fort Campbell, left active duty and started graduate school at Austin Peay.
Those days you didn’t tell anyone that you were a Vietnam veteran. The nation was still divided on the war. Our families were thankful we were home but if you were in uniform in airports or train stations you might be met with hostile words and actions. You came home, tried to blend in and get on with your life. After graduating APSU I moved to Dickson and soon joined American Legion Post 115 and VFW Post 4641.
Quietly proud of my Vietnam service I learned of plans for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington and immediately signed on. The first time I visited “The Wall” I felt a deep sense of sadness along with a great sense of accomplishment. I marched in the Welcome Home Parade and the dedication of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial on Nov. 13, 1982. Those who had lost their lives and along with those who served were being honored. I felt the thanks of our nation for what we had done, and came to a deeper appreciation of the sacrifice of those whose names were inscribed on “The Wall.”
A few years later I returned with my young son and wife. The sadness had not gone away. But this time it was accompanied by a deep feeling of gratitude to these fallen heroes for defending our Republic so we could live our lives in freedom and peace.
As the years have passed the sadness remains when I think about “The Wall” but along with that is a deeper feeling of thankfulness for all veterans’ sacrifices that have allowed us to live our dreams. My prayer is that we will never go to war again but it appears that we must continue defending our way of life. Bless the young women and men who are serving today.
Here is what military service taught me about our great country:
- THE CONSTITUTION. Every veteran took an oath to defend it and it defines our freedoms. The American Legion teaches young people its basics at Boy’s and Girl’s State each summer.
- WE ARE BLESSED. Our faith keeps us strong.
- WE SPEAK OUR MINDS. The freedom to express differing views and the divisiveness it brings is a positive feature, not a flaw, of our democracy.
- DIVERSITY IS STRENGTH. Men and women from all backgrounds and ethnic groups make us great. We have the best from all over the world.
- WE HAVE BIG HEARTS. We distribute books, send missionaries, and build hospitals, schools.
- OPPORTUNITY IS EVERYWHERE. The reason we lead the world in innovation.
- WE GET IT RIGHT (It might take us awhile). Americans eventually solve our problems.
- VOTE. If you want to be part of the solution vote.
- WE COME BACK STRONGER. Over and over again.
- REMEMBER THEIR SACRIFICE. Every year on Memorial Day, take time to reflect on the freedoms that we easily take for granted and remember those who paid the price.
Wyatt Harper served on active duty in the United States Army 1968-1972, retired from the Army Reserve in 1989 and has lived in Dickson since 1976.