OPINION

Veterans, our backbone of freedom

Posted

Nearly one year ago today I stood at attention and saluted the American flag before a state championship game in Fayetteville.

When the national anthem ended, a gentlemen said “thank you for your service.”

I turned to him and said, “Sir, I did not serve. I do this in honor of my dad, my brother, my relatives and friends.”

This is not a “toot my own horn” spiel.

It’s to explain the respect that I hold in my heart for the military as we celebrate Veteran’s Day.

My dad served in the Army and battled on the front lines during the Korean Conflict. He was captured twice and escaped both times.

He earned a Purple Heart and returned home a year early.

I have pictures of dad’s time in Korea and often wonder how many of his buddies made it back to the states. Dad never talked about his time overseas and my mom, before she passed, told me that he did suffer from PTSD for a number of years.

Dad’s brother, Robert Jr., served in the Navy.

A jokester who had an affinity for cars, Uncle Bob and his shipmates departed the USS Arizona for a little rest and relaxation on the exotic island in the Pacific.

We all know the story.

Thirty minutes after USS Arizona docked, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Uncle Bob and his shipmates hustled back to defend the ship that experienced heavy damage and eventually sunk. He suffered numerous shrapnel wounds and spent some time in the naval hospital on the island before he returned home.

One day, a few years back, my dad and I watched a documentary on the History Channel. Dad suddenly exclaimed “there’s Robert Jr. on that gurney! I know that smile anywhere!”

That was Uncle Bob’s trademark, no doubt.

My mom came from a family of 13 and several of her brothers ventured off into the military. One served in the same Army unit with Elvis Presley.

I don’t have too many details about my other uncles. I just know they all returned home safe and sound.

My nana had three boys and two served in Vietnam. I can remember her excitement when she’d receive those white envelopes that had red and blue markings on the borders. I knew they were letters and pictures from her “pride and joy.”

I wasn’t even knee high to a grasshopper then, still nursing a milk bottle, toddling and learning to talk.

I do know they, like my uncles, got married and had children once they returned to the states.

My late brother left for boot camp less than a week after he graduated high school in the late 1970s. For 10 years, he traveled the world and spent most of his time in Seoul, South Korea. I have a majority of his pictures tucked away in a memory book, and a few framed photos of him throughout my home.

In case you’re wondering, I entertained thoughts of joining the US Air Force with hopes of working in the communications field. Instead, I broke the “family military mold” and opted for college.

I may not be a veteran.

But, I’m damn proud to say I come from a military family that believed in core values and selflessly put their lives in jeopardy so that I may enjoy the freedoms I have today.

Rudy Coggins is assistant editor of the Mount Olive Tribune. Email him at rcoggins@mountolivetribune.com.

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