WILKES-BARRE — The veterans sat in the first few rows at Thursday’s program at the VA Medical Center.
Most were in wheelchairs and they were wearing battle scars — evidence of injuries suffered in the performance of their duty to their country.
They all fought for our freedom and would do it all over again if given the opportunity.
And when the national anthem was sung, they saluted and sang along.
No one in the room took a knee.
This group of veterans was representative of all veterans — there are 820,000 in Pennsylvania alone. They raised their right hand and took the oath and they served without hesitation.
Were they scared? I’m sure they were from time to time. But as one of the speakers said, they were able to contain their fear and transfer it into courage.
Throughout history, brave men and women have willingly gone into battle to defeat the enemy and in so doing, preserve our freedom. It sounds like a simple equation, but as another speaker said, “Freedom is never free.”
Veterans Day really should be every day. We should thank a veteran every time we meet one. “Lest we forget” is the least we can do.
Ceremonies like those held Thursday and over the weekend are stark reminders of what veterans have done for us. So many left their homes and families and went off to war, never to return. Many more returned without an arm or leg, or with injuries not visible to the naked eye.
And they returned to pick up the pieces, go to work, raise a family and make their part of America strong again.
And when our military wasn’t charged with fighting a war, troops were deployed around the world keeping the peace and assuring we back home were safe.
The point is, our military, our veterans, have always been there for us and they always will be. We can sleep at night because we know our military is on watch. They have our backs. They are our guards.
Our gratitude should be shown easily — “Thanks for your service.” That’s all they ask.
My friend Jim Walsh will soon turn 93. Jim fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. Jim attended another Veterans Day ceremony Thursday at the Wyoming Valley West Middle School.
When I asked Jim what these ceremonies mean to him and all veterans, his answer was simple — “Remembrance,” he said.
When he said that, I thought, “Wow, what a bargain.”
For all his service, for all the service given by our veterans, all they ask in return is to be thanked and for us to remember what they and all who came before them have done for every one of us.
And I thought of my father, who gave his right leg in service to his country. I thought of how many times my dad took me to Veterans Day ceremonies and Memorial Day ceremonies and to July 4th ceremonies, always telling me that if it weren’t for veterans, we wouldn’t have anything.
So when I sat in the recreation room at the VA Medical Center on Thursday, I couldn’t take my eyes off those veterans in the first few rows — in wheelchairs, wearing hats that defined what branch they served in or on what ship or what organization they supported.
At first glance, one might see these men and women and feel sorry for them, but not so fast. These veterans may be old, they may be disabled, they may appear to be broken in some way — but they aren’t.
These veterans exemplify the strength of America. They are the examples of what fighting for freedom is all about. They have met the enemy and they have won. And because of their bravery, their determination and their love of country, we live in a country where freedom rings.
I thanked every veteran there for their service. I made sure to let them know that this son of a proud American veteran sincerely appreciates all they have done to preserve our freedom.
Yes, Veterans Day is every day and every day that we live in this free country has been made possible by those who served.
Those who went to battle did so willingly because they knew they had to do all they could to keep us free. They went to battle on land and sea and in the air. They never once questioned why they were there.
Remembering them really is the least we can do and we should do it every day.
God bless all veterans and God bless the United States of America.