This past weekend The Wife and I attended the annual Illinois VFW banquet for the Voice of Democracy awards. The reason we were there was because The Youngest Son had submitted an essay (which also had to be submitted as a recorded speech) on the subject of “Is there honor in serving in the military?” for this annual contest, and had won at the local and regional levels. The eighteen kids who won at the regional levels, out of the over 4,000 original entrants, got an expenses paid weekend at the Crown Plaza, a tour of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, attended a ceremony at Lincoln’s tomb, and culminated in the banquet where the winners were announced.
We, along with the outstanding folks from the local and regional VFW, were on pins and needles as they announced how the kids placed, and very happy when Kenny was awarded second place (being completely objective and unbiased, I think he should’ve got first place.)
All the people from the state and national VFW organizations were just terrific to the kids, and also very generous. All eighteen received monetary awards to be applied towards college expenses. The first place winner received $3,000 and is being sent to the national event in Washington, D.C., where the national winner will receive $30,000. Turns out the VFW isn’t just that little club down on the corner were vets can have a few beers and a walleye dinner.
I did think it was a shame that time constraints of the program meant only the first place winner, an outstanding young lady from Chicago, delivered their speech, especially since most of the nearly 500 in attendance were either vets or spouses who can’t be thanked enough for their service. When Kenny gave his speech at the local and regional events, I thought it was moving, but it really seemed to resonate with those folks who’ve actually “walked the walk.”
The Wife has sent it to a number of friends and family who wanted see it, and I decided I’d like to share it with anyone who stops by here occasionally. Hope you like it, too. And remember that you don’t have to wait until Veteran’s Day or the Fourth of July to tell a vet “thank you.”
Here’s Kenny’s speech:
Is There Pride in Serving in Our Military?
For every day the sun rises above the Atlantic to shine down on a waving American flag, a soldier has fought and died to keep that flag flying. Every newborn patriot has been brought into the greatest country in the world only through the sacrifices made by our service men and women. From the beaches of Normandy, to the deserts of Afghanistan, our soldiers should feel proud to be an American as they stake everything to preserve our way of life.
When I was young, I had the opportunity to ask my great grandfather about serving in the military in World War II before he died. I remember the way he leaned back in his chair and the far off look he had while he thought about his time overseas. He told me the story of the first battle he was ever in, an assignment to capture a hilltop the enemy was also trying to take over. “It was about the scariest thing a man can ever do, shootin’ at another human,” he told me. When I asked him more detailed questions, he couldn’t remember where the hill was or even what nation of soldiers they were fighting. But what he did remember was the fear he felt before charging the hill and as he looked at the young men around him, seeing that same fear in their eyes. But every single soldier was there to push each other forward, up the hill, and on to victory.
This is what pride in the military is all about. It doesn’t come from getting their name on the news or getting attention. They do what they are told until the job is finished, no matter how hard it gets. Once the bullets start flying and the bombs explode, it doesn’t matter whether a soldier is black, white, Asian, or Hispanic. The only thing that matters is brothers and sisters serving alongside each other to protect this great nation from every threat.
On a cold day in February 2007, a group of servicemen stood at attention behind a wall of trees in Fort Benning, Georgia. Less than a quarter of a mile away from them my family sat in the stands, waiting to catch a glimpse of our own hero, my brother. The ceremony kicked off with two tactical armored vehicles skidding across the asphalt as smoke bombs released a thick screen. An elite squad of rangers in ghillie suits exited the vehicles with stunning precision and got into position before the smoke had even cleared. But as it cleared, we all looked past this impressive display to see our soldiers marching in formation, graduated members of the United States National Guard. The speaker for the ceremony finished and the stands emptied immediately as we ran to our soldiers. Every soldier broke ranks and hugged and kissed and held their families they had waited so long to see.
But among these soldiers were those who stood their ground, staring dead ahead. These soldiers didn’t have a mother to kiss, or a brother to hug, or a father to tell him how proud he is of him. They spend their holidays in a barracks without a family to send them gifts or cards or just call them on the phone to talk about their day. What these soldiers have is the man to their left and the man to their right and that may well be the best family they could ever have. At the end of the day, they should feel the most pride of all. It takes courage and honor to fight for loved ones, but these soldiers fight for all Americans, regardless of whether they have someone waiting for them when they get home or not.
So when you get the chance, show them why they should feel proud. When you see soldiers in uniform, shake their hand and thank them for serving this country and preserving our safety. Take the opportunity to ask a veteran about their service. If you hear people criticizing the military, defend our troops who are defending you. These are all small things we can do to inspire soldiers to see how great they truly are.
When soldiers hear songs like “America the Beautiful”, they should feel proud in knowing that as the notes echo across each amber wave of grain and resound through purple mountain majesties, their sacrifice is remembered. Whether by the dawn’s early light or at the twilight’s last gleaming, the sights of this beautiful country are here because they have given everything up to preserve it. And when Old Glory flies overhead, every red stripe has been paid in full by the blood of our troops, and the stars on that flag will never dim as long as they continue to fight for us on the front lines.