Commentary: Thank a US military veteran each and every day

On Veterans Day we recognize the men and women who have served the country with courage, integrity and valor. They deserve thanks not only one day a year, but every day.

Over a period of four decades, I had the privilege of serving with three generations of veterans from Vietnam in 1966-68, through my retirement from the Navy Reserve in 2007. After serving almost 11 years in the Air Force, I took a 21-year break in service before coming aboard the Army National Guard in 1997, later switching to the Navy Reserve.

Some of my most memorable experiences were working with battle-injured Marines at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Their injuries included amputations, gunshot and shrapnel wounds, burns and blindness. Their only complaint wasn’t about their life-changing injuries but guilt over “leaving my Marines behind.”

Dave Skocik

Ten years later in 2013 I received a call from then-Lt. Gov. Matt Denn who asked if someone from my Kent County Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 850 could pick up three soldiers flying into Philly as honored guests at Gov. Markell’s second inauguration. Mr. Denn had been reading “The Outpost,” a best-selling book by CNN’s Jake Tapper that documented the October 2009 heroic actions of a small number of 10th Mountain Division soldiers in the remote Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan.

They held off several hundred Taliban fighters trying to overrun their camp during a several-day period. The battle resulted in the loss of eight Americans with two dozen others wounded in point-blank combat. The above and beyond heroism of two soldiers in saving the lives of others resulted in later recipient of the Medal of Honor. Although not involved in that battle, my late son-in-law CW3 Gary Brown also served in Afghanistan in the 10th Mountain Division but chose not to talk about it.

Tapper noted his book was written to help readers “better understand what it is that our troops go through, why they go through it, and what their experience has been like in Afghanistan.”

On Sunday, Jan. 13, Chapter President Joe Startt Jr., and I drove to Philly, met our guests, and delivered them to the Double Tree Hotel in Wilmington with instructions to have dinner with them courtesy of the state.

We fell into easy conversation and shop talk with their leader, a master sergeant in his late 30s, and the others in their mid-20s. With Joe and me in our mid-60s, we represented three generations of veterans but spoke as timeless colleagues in the context of “Duty, Honor, Country.”

We returned from Dover the following morning to escort the team to William Penn H.S., where they addressed uniformed JR ROTC students. Nearly all raised their hands when asked how many had family who served in the military. Later that day Mr. Tapper joined us for a book signing and a public address at the Grand Opera House before a state vehicle transported the soldiers to Dover for the inauguration ceremony.

The point of this missive is to underscore that military service and willingness to sacrifice usually runs in families over generations. Fewer than 1 percent of our fellow citizens are willing or able to risk their welfare and lives for us, to say nothing of ongoing family separations.

If we don’t take care of our current generation of patriots, we cannot expect these men and women to encourage their children to relieve them when their watch ends.

Reach out and thank a veteran. Educate your children about how they guarantee our freedoms. Attend an event. Consider a contribution to the Delaware Veterans Trust Fund at www.DelawareVeteransTrustFund.com.

Dave Skocik, of Dover, is president of Friends of Delaware Veterans, the volunteer fundraising arm of the Delaware Veterans Trust Fund that provides a hand up to veterans in financial emergency.

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