The veterans I have met have inspired me over the years, especially during my military career. They were always people to be emulated and revered because of their sacrifices for our country and the rest of the free world. And I’d like to tell you how they inspire our soldiers currently serving in harm’s way.
Over eight years ago, my Reserve unit was called up for Iraq. One of the soldiers under my command flat out refused to go. Said he would not deploy. He was afraid. Understandably, this made him somewhat unpopular in the unit. The chain-of-command and his fellow soldiers berated him and called him a coward. Then they sent him to see me, thinking, “This Ready guy must have a magic wand”.
I had something better. I started telling him about the veterans of World War II and Korea, many of whom were drafted. Their term of enlistment was the duration of the war, plus six months. So, no matter how bad things got, no matter how many times they went into combat, they still had this open-ended commitment. Now that, I told him, was something to be afraid of.
And then I reminded him of the veterans of the Vietnam Conflict, whom never received the parades and the accolades they deserved. Most of their countrymen were prepared to go to prison for 10 years, or Canada for life, to avoid doing what those Americans did for 1 year.
I told him 2 more things: One, he had signed his name, raised his right hand and took an oath, and in this country, that still means something.
The second was something he already knew: that if he did not honor that pledge, he would hate himself for the rest of his life. It was written all over his face.
Well, he changed his mind, and deployed. I lost track of him, as he was sent to another part of Iraq. But about midway through his tour, his convoy was ambushed north of Baghdad. And that young man was the only one of the 20 soldiers in that column who had the presence of mind to stand up and fire back, keeping the insurgents’ heads down, so that the convoy could get to safety. Even decades after leaving the service, the veterans I told him about still make a difference.
I thought about those men and women all of the time, whenever I was having a bad day in Iraq. How would they handle this or that situation? Friends being killed. Writing letters to parents, trying to explain why their sons were coming home maimed.
And it continues. I’ve learned what they had learned years ago: just how quickly we can leave this world, and how precious life is. To have the strength to accept uncertainty and to live in the moment. And lastly, if you can’t find your courage in a war, you need to keep looking for it anyway.