As I type these words, I hear the singing voices of kindergarten – 8th grade students of Mayflower Heritage Christian School as they prepare for a Veterans Day program, which they hold annually. Tomorrow, men and women who have served our country in war and peace will be in attendance. The oldest honorees will be Korean War veterans and the youngest have served in our conflicts in the Middle East. This is a rich learning experience for these young people as the Veterans share their stories of service. Already, two of the graduates of this small Christian school that began in 2001 are serving in the Air Force and one in the Army. We are a people who love God and country and believe that our allegiances fall in that order. We are definitely patriotic and appreciate those who have and are serving in our military!
Many of us have been affected and influenced personally by veterans, living and dead. My father, a WWII veteran, was a Navy fighter pilot, whose orders were changed before going to the Pacific Ocean theater. Remaining stateside for the duration of the war, his previous profession as a teacher translated into an assignment as a flight instructor. That change in orders, while initially upsetting to him, likely saved his life. He remained in the Navy Reserves after the war, and ultimately flew jet fighters. I was always proud to see my father in his uniform and wondered why the military guards at the base gates knew to salute him as an officer when he was in his civilian clothes. Little did I know that the military decal tipped them off, differentiating the vehicles of officers and non-commissioned personnel.
My wife’s family experienced the ultimate sacrifice, her dad losing his two older brothers within a month of one another in 1944. The middle brother, Cpl Perry Rowe Harris, was on board a ship that was attacked by the Japanese. He sustained mortal wounds and was ultimately buried at the American National Cemetery in Manila, Philippines.
Lt. Finis Ewing Harris, Jr., the oldest brother, was a B-17 pilot. His plane was hit by flak in a daytime bombing run over Kassel, Germany on December 15, 1944. He struggled to return the plane to the American base in England. Once over land and enshrouded by fog, he encouraged his crew to bail out, knowing that he would likely be unsuccessful in landing the injured B-17. Only one crew member did and almost immediately, while trying to land using radio beacons, one wing hit the stay of the Air Ministry Gee Mast at Borough Hill, Daventry. The plane spun into the ground and the nine remaining crew members were killed in the crash.
Uncles, brothers-in-law and nephews have also served in peace and conflict. Military service forever changes people. Young people, who go off to military service, whether it be wartime or peacetime, come back with life experiences that the general public will never have. They are trained to do things that most of us will never have to consider doing. They see, hear, smell and touch things in prolonged and real time that if we DO see are only through the medium of video or print, in short exposures that might impact us, but not with the full force of those in action.
Consequently, those of us who have and continue to benefit from the service of our military owe them our thanks and recognition on days like today and beyond. I try to go out of my way to make sure I thank a person wearing a “Vietnam Veteran” cap. I contribute to the Honor Flights that allow veterans to travel to the War Memorials in Washington, D.C., enabling them to find a honor and closure. We owe them the continued support to help them with the wounds, visible and invisible, that many have sustained through their service to our country.
Thank you for your service, Veterans!