Guest columnist: Peacetime soldiers deserve honor, too
Vail CO, Colorado
During the memorial services Monday at Freedom Park in Edwards honoring Veteran’s Day I was, once again, emotionally shaken with the memories of those years, long ago and the many years since, as they chronicled the service and the sacrifices of the thousands of men and women who have honorably served our country. Many gave their lives or have suffered life-long injuries or impairments.
It is only fitting these men and women be honored and remembered for their sacrifices. However there are others, like myself, who neither gave our lives or suffered from the effects of war. The original phrase honoring the “silent service” was fittingly bestowed upon the men of the United States’ submarine service and has always so been associated. There was also, in our lifetime, another silent service. It was made up of those who served in all of the armed forces between the various wars, beginning in September 1945 up to the beginning of the Korean War in 1955 and those who served between that war and the start of hostilities in Vietnam.
These soldiers and sailors, marines and airmen and women, reaching the age of consent without a war to attend, but no less desirable of serving their country, have fallen into the cracks of time, somewhere between the glory and the horror of a wartime service. I know because my term of service began 14 months following the World War II armistice and ended only a short time before the Korean hostilities.
During much of my term of naval service our nation was embroiled in a fiasco with the Russians affectionately known as the “Cold War”. We, the active members of the armed forces at the time were no less patriotic, no less lacking of the desire for “action” or recognition, but it was our lot to serve quietly, without fanfare or glamour.
Surely, a veteran is accepted and generally believed to be a product of a wartime service and so they most assuredly are. However, it is not unpatriotic or unsympathetic to note that there were tens or hundreds of thousands of WWII, Korean, and Vietnam vets who never fired a shot in anger, never had a shot fired at them; were never shot out of the air, took a torpedo or saw the face of an enemy. In almost all cases, this was not because of their own choosing.
Fact remains, that for every “warrior” in the face of fire, there were and are an untold number of noncombatants, in uniformed and out, men and women, who also serve.
My own peacetime “silent service” consisted of three years of active service and the South Pacific, on bases and ships. Another four years were spent in the Naval Reserve, at university and at home. In my tenure overseas I lost one friend in a flight accident, another in an air station tarmac accident and a third in the Berlin airlift. All three were active servicemen on active duty and all three were less than 21 years old. No war, no hostilities, but they died just the same.
The question, in my mind is whether any of these young men were less a veteran than a sailor lost in the battle of the Coral Sea, or Marine on the beach of Guadalcanal, or a soldier on Omaha Beach? In truth, I do not know, nor believe I am qualified to judge. What I am sure of was that we silent servicemen did our best, served honorably and did all that was asked of us.
Why then, on these annual days of recognition and remembrance, do I suffer pangs of guilt, standing amidst the “real” veterans, the warriors of the United States Armed Forces? The window of service for me and thousands of others was not of our choosing. We served because that was our time to serve, because our birthdays dictated it. Military service in peacetime was the option we were given, and, with luck, will be the option of many generations to follow.
On a personal level, I remember the hurt I felt when, following my honorable discharge from the Navy, I tried, unsuccessfully, to join the American Legion. I did so at the urging of a good friend, a former paratrooper and Legion member. To my chagrin and his, I was informed that my dates of service did not coincide with a prescribed period of national conflict and was, therefore, unacceptable.
I was, however, welcomed into “Amvets” and thereby received some form of service recognition. Today, I am a proud member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which also welcomes all others of the “silent service” as brothers in arms.
If then, the Cold War was not really a war, there still remains a strong memory of just how close we were to conflict with the U.S.S.R and World War III, and I believe, if we did not have the strength and dedication of my “silent service” brothers and sisters, WWIII just might have become a reality.
On behalf of us all, I extend our thanks to the veterans who have given both life and dedication to this fabulous nation and to all those yet to follow. Here, in the Vail Valley we can express our appreciation by supporting the Freedom Park Memorial and all it stands for, and all it will continue to honor throughout our lifetime and for generations to come.
On behalf of my “silent service” brethren, veterans and all, I salute you and I thank you.
Alan M. Aarons is an Edwards resident and U.S. Navy veteran. E-mail comments to email@example.com.
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