Veterans share their stories of service
November 8, 2012
EDWARDS, Colorado – Thursday’s St. Clare Veterans Day ceremony was a study in life’s circles.
For example, St. Clare students worked various odd jobs and fundraisers to collect money that they gave the veterans Thursday afternoon. The veterans will give it away as scholarships to other kids, and a wonderful circle is completed.
It ended with “Taps,” as these occasions must. St. Clare’s Kendal Sego played her trumpet, a kid with her whole life in front of her, honoring those whose lives were just a few scant years further along than hers but cut so tragically short, and a terrible circle is completed.
Capt. Peter Thompson won the Bronze Star for his service as a forward observer near the South Vietnamese border. You earn a Bronze Star Medal for heroism, merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone.
Thompson has some stories to tell, not all of them pleasant. Instead he focused on the kids, asking questions and enjoying the conversation.
“What’s a veteran?” he asked, and dozens of tiny hands shot up.
“When any of us went into the service we took a pledge,” Thompson said.
All these years later he can still recite it: “I, Peter Thompson, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.”
“Who knows what the Constitution is?” Thompson asked, as dozens of tiny hands again shot up.
Our Constitution outlines the United States government and describes our rights and liberties, Thompson explained. He looked across his audience, split about evenly between boys and girls, and then blew their little minds.
“There are countries where women cannot drive a car, where they cannot go to school,” Thompson said.
He explained that members of the U.S. military defend those rights.
“Reporters do not preserve freedom of the press, soldiers do. Poets do not preserve freedom of expression, soldiers do,” Thompson said. “Soldiers preserve girls’ rights to go to school and drive a car.”
“Of the 315 million people in America, it takes about 1 percent, 2.5 million, to serve in the military and defend those rights,” Thompson said.
A dozen veterans were at St. Clare’s Thursday afternoon, part of an annual week-long observance of Veterans Day in local schools. Some were drafted, some volunteered.
Volunteering is better, said retired Maj. Mike Mathias, who was drafted out of high school in Grand Junction.
“I knew I was going,” said Mathias, who served 20 years in the Army, including time in Vietnam and Indochina.
His military service helped him earn a college degree from Harvard, so it turned out OK, but the modern all-volunteer military is a better way of doing it, he said.
“Now you’re a volunteer and that helps immensely,” Mathias said.
The draft notice starts, “Greetings!” then hits you right in the guts, Mathias said.
“It basically says Uncle Sam needs you so don’t make any big plans. We know where you are,” Mathias told the students.
Mathias said many people dodged the draft by fleeing to Canada. Others went to such extremes to flunk their military physicals that they shot off a toe, or a cut off a trigger finger, or ate soap so their heart rate would skyrocket.
“Drafting people into the military is something from the past that no one will miss at all,” Mathias said.
This was James Bogle’s first Veterans Day observance in a school, and a child’s question hit him right where all soldiers and sailors live: “How did you feel about fighting a war?”
“War brings about very deep feelings. First you’re away from home and I left behind my wife and children. Then there’s the job and you soon realize that it’s harder than anything you’ve ever done before.
You’re fighting for your country, sure. But you’re also fighting for the people you’re fighting with.
“My most intense feelings came from looking around at the guys I was fighting with and how much I loved those guys,” Bogle said.
James Bogle volunteered for the Army. He recently retired and settled in the valley with his family after serving in the Middle East. He said he hopes a few of the kids consider serving their country.
And the circle remains unbroken.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.