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Why say thank you on Veterans Day?

Years ago I had a blog where I shared my thoughts on a number of topics, the military and veterans being prominent features.  I was going through that site today and came across this posting from Veterans Day 2009.  It seems to fit as well now as it did then and want to re-share it here.

Why say thank you on Veterans Day?

A man pays his respects at Fort Logan National Cemetery. (Tony's Takes)

A man pays his respects at Fort Logan National Cemetery. (Tony’s Takes)

We set aside Veterans Day to say ‘thank you’ to our veterans for their service and for the sacrifices they have made for us and our great nation.  Sometimes though, we forget exactly what veterans have done to deserve these thanks.

Veterans have served in God-forsaken hellholes from one end of the earth to the other.  They have roasted in 120+ degree heat in the Middle East, been drenched by unending rain in the jungles of Vietnam, and suffered frostbite in the bitter cold of the Ardennes Forest.

They have stood in lines dozens deep to eat, to see a doctor and even to use the bathroom.  They have labored for days with little or no sleep.  Men and women have launched dozens of bomb-laden aircraft from the deck of aircraft carriers in a matter of hours, stood watch over the DMZ in Korea where a state of war still exists and fought bloody battles for their very lives that lasted for days.

Sailors go months without seeing land, longing for the simple pleasure of setting foot on solid ground again.

Airmen load bombs well-aware of the harm they may cause but comforted by the knowledge their cause is just.

Soldiers spend weeks on missions where their only hot meal is an MRE eaten from their helmet, longing for some of their wife’s home cooking.

Coastguardsmen stand watch from the deck of a ship protecting a homeland unaware of the dangers lurking offshore.

Marines assault a beachhead running for their lives while watching their friends fall around them.

A sailor (the author) returns home from a six month deployment. (Tony's Takes)

A sailor (the author) returns home from a six month deployment. (Tony’s Takes)

Veterans have been separated from their friends and families for weeks, months and years.   They have missed birthdays, anniversaries, and the birth of their own children.  They have missed Christmas, the 4th of July, football games and even Veterans Day.

Our veterans have called home from a far off land and heard about the broken washer and the car that won’t start and been helpless to help their loved ones back home.  They have gotten the Red Cross message telling them about their dad dying unexpectedly and felt the anguish of having to choose between going home to honor him or staying in the field to fight with their comrades.  They have received ‘Dear John’ letters while on the other side of the world, crushing the one piece of home they were clinging to.

Veterans have returned home to a country which is foreign to them, a place that has seemingly moved on while they were stuck in time.  They have found children that hardly recognize them, spouses that grew accustomed to them not being around and friends and family that don’t understand them and cannot fathom what they have seen and done.

Some have returned home to tickertape parades and adoring crowds.  Others returned home only to be spat on and called despicable names.  Many return to no acknowledgement of what they have accomplished, no one there to simply say ‘welcome home.’

Veterans have struggled to return to a normal life, not even knowing what ‘normal’ is anymore.  Veterans throw themselves into their new lives with the same sense of honor, pride and dedication they served the country with.  Others still stand on a street corner and sleep under a bridge just looking for a helping hand while battling the demons that haunt their minds.  They go to Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts across the country in an effort to recapture some of the comradeship that was lost when they left the service.

They bear the scars of their service, some visible, some not.

The Thornton Veterans Memorial in Thornton, Colorado. (Tony's Takes)

The Thornton Veterans Memorial in Thornton, Colorado. (Tony’s Takes)

They have prosthetic legs to replace the ones blown off by an IED and a six inch scar across their belly where a German knife was plunged into it.  Some walk with a limp from a shattered ankle, can’t move an arm that is paralyzed or struggle to hear their grandchildren because of a bomb that exploded next to them ruining their hearing.

Veterans stand at attention and cry when the Star Spangled Banner is played, knowing the words by heart and the true meaning behind them.  Others though cannot watch fireworks on the 4th of July because the sight and sound frightens them and brings back memories they fight to bury and forget.

They break down when remembering holding their friend as he gasped his last breath on the battlefield.  They pray to God asking that He just make the images of the horrors they witnessed go away but knowing that they will return when they close their eyes.

When you think about what you are saying ‘thank you’ for, perhaps just think about some of these things that our veterans have done.  That simple act of saying ‘thank you’ takes on renewed meaning for you and will mean more to a veteran than he can ever say.

God bless you all, God bless the United States of America and God bless our veterans!

Patriot Day 2017 – Remembering the fallen

It is hard to believe it has been sixteen years since that fateful day. September 11, 2001. That date is forever emblazoned in my memory and in the hearts of all good Americans.

Like few other dates in our history, we can all remember exactly where we were when we learned of the attacks and recall in vivid detail the horror that followed. 2,977 people were killed that day and thousands more have perished since then in the War on Terror as we sought justice across the globe and fought to ensure no one could ever harm our nation as they did that day.

While we shed tears for those that died that day and since, we should also remember the other, too easily forgotten scenes that day.

The firemen and police officers who rushed to the scene and helped those in need, many sacrificing their own lives in the process. The office workers who helped their friends and co-workers down dozens and dozens of flights of stairs. The steel workers who helped to search the rubble of the buildings their fathers had built. The heroes on United Flight 93 who with the simple words, “Let’s roll,” battled their hijackers and ultimately sacrificed their own lives to save countless others on the ground. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who dragged their compatriot’s bodies from the rubble of the Pentagon.

Certainly, September 11, 2001 will be remembered as one of the saddest days in our history but it is my sincerest wish that it will also be remembered as one of this country’s proudest. We stood together then, as the truly United States of America.

Perhaps now, when we seem so divided, it would be wise to step back and remember how on that day and the immediate days that follow, we were not left, not right, not black, not white. We were Americans. Indeed, we still are. Remember that and honor the fallen.

Remembering our fallen for Patriot Day 2017. Fort Logan National Cemetery. (© Tony’s Takes)

Remembering our fallen for Patriot Day 2017. Fort Logan National Cemetery. (© Tony’s Takes)

Honoring a local hero

I visit a few gravesites at Fort Logan National Cemetery when I go. Some people I knew, some are friends and family of people I knew. Yesterday, I stopped by and said hello to a shipmate, one you may have heard of.

Petty Officer Danny Dietz was a man that stood above others. Raised in Littleton, Colorado, he would go on to become a Navy SEAL and serve with distinction and honor. It was in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan on June 28, 2005 that Danny’s journey would come to an end.

In a battle immortalized in the movie, Lone Survivor, he was shot in the neck and yet he kept fighting – fighting for his teammates.  He would fall back with them, leap off a precipice and continue the fight, providing covering fire until he received a fatal shot.

A truly extraordinary man, one who fought and died for something greater than himself.  My visit was humbling and shook me. I thank God for men and women like him. For his valiant action, Gunner’s Mate Second Class Dietz received the Navy Cross.

The honored resting place of Petty Officer Danny Dietz, U.S. Navy SEAL. (© Tony’s Takes)

The honored resting place of Petty Officer Danny Dietz, U.S. Navy SEAL. (© Tony’s Takes)

Remembering the real reason for the Memorial Day holiday

As I do a few times a year, I paid a visit to Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver this weekend. My father is buried there, along with thousands of others of our nation’s heroes. Brave men and women who answered the call of the nation, some in peacetime, some in war.

Today, however, is not for all of them. It is for those that made the ultimate sacrifice – a price paid out of love for country, for God and for their countrymen. Those of us left behind are charged with carrying forward and ensuring that they are never forgotten, that their sacrifices shall not have been in vain.

We would do well to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln when he said, “Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.”

Were it not for those heroes, we and our nation would not be here. Let us remember.

Honoring our nation's heroes on Memorial Day 2017.  Fort Logan National Cemetery in black and white. (© Tony’s Takes)

Honoring our nation’s heroes on Memorial Day 2017. Fort Logan National Cemetery in black and white. (© Tony’s Takes)

Something different but something that needs to be recognized

Want to make a veteran tear up? Give this to them.

That is exactly what happened to me yesterday. I discovered these in a tiny little Ziploc bag under the windshield wiper on my truck. It took me a minute to digest what it was but once I did, I couldn’t help but get tears.

Such a thoughtful gesture and one that I truly appreciate. So, my heartfelt thanks go out to Girl Scouts Troop 63979. God bless you and God bless America!

A thoughtful gift left under the windshield of my truck - Stars for Heroes. (© Tony’s Takes)

A thoughtful gift left under the windshield of my truck – Stars for Heroes. (© Tony’s Takes)

December 7th, 1941. A date which will live in infamy…

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an event that forever changed our nation. Having served in the U.S. Navy, this day and that place have extraordinary, profound meaning to me. The thought of the horrors seen the day of that despicable and cowardly attack give rise to a variety of emotions.

I had the distinct honor of visiting there twice when I was in the service: Once in August 1995 as we took part in ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of D-Day and again in November 1996 when we returned from a deployment to the Persian Gulf.

It was on that last visit that I manned the rails of my ship and saluted the USS Arizona as we passed the watery grave of so many heroes. I distinctly remember hearing the whistle and then the command, “Hand salute,” and proudly raised my right hand to my brow as goosebumps came over me and tears welled in my eyes. A sobering moment, one that I will never forget.

I wish camera technology then (and my skill) was what it is now as the few pictures I have simply do not do it justice. The two images of the USS Arizona Memorial were taken by me on my visit in 1995. The other is a U.S. Navy photo of my ship, the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), as she passed the memorial in 1996. I am one of those figures in white manning the rails. 😉

The USS Carl Vinson passes by the USS Arizona Memorial in November 1996. (US Navy)

The USS Carl Vinson passes by the USS Arizona Memorial in November 1996. (US Navy)

The USS Arizona Memorial. Taken in August 1995. (© Tony’s Takes)

The USS Arizona Memorial. Taken in August 1995. (© Tony’s Takes)

The names of the fallen on the wall of the USS Arizona Memorial. Image taken in August 1995. (© Tony’s Takes)

The names of the fallen on the wall of the USS Arizona Memorial. Image taken in August 1995. (© Tony’s Takes)

Hold your breath: U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds opposing pass

Today one of the Thunderbirds crashed after performing at the United States Air Force Academy graduation this afternoon. Thankfully it appears the pilot is okay and the crash occurred in an open field so no other people were injured or property damaged.

In a stunning coincidence on the same afternoon,  Capt. Jeff Kuss was killed when practicing a U.S. Navy Blue Angels performance in Tennessee.

These men and women may perform for ‘entertainment’ and it may not be combat but that doesn’t make what they do any less dangerous. Pushing a supersonic combat figher aircraft to its limits has its risks, big risks.

This image was taken last year on May 31 at the Rocky Mountain Airshow in Aurora, Colorado.

The USAF Thunderbirds perform the breathtaking opposing pass in 2015.  (© Tony’s Takes)

The USAF Thunderbirds perform the breathtaking opposing pass in 2015. (© Tony’s Takes)

A seemingly endless sea of stone

A seemingly endless sea of stone. One more from my visit to Fort Logan yesterday. Each marker represents a dad, a mom, a son, a daughter… All served this nation and all worthy of honor and respect.

Fort Logan National Cemetery's headstones are decorate with flags for Memorial Day.  (© Tony’s Takes)

Fort Logan National Cemetery’s headstones are decorate with flags for Memorial Day. (© Tony’s Takes)

Heroes honored with flowers, flags and stone

I stopped by Fort Logan National Cemetery yesterday to pay my respects to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to this great nation. As always, it was a very emotional visit for me but one that I believe is required of every American. General George Patton said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” That is a fitting statement as we are forever in their debt and acknowledging these brave men and women is the least we can do.

Flowers, flags and stone at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado on Memorial Day.  (© Tony’s Takes)

Flowers, flags and stone at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado on Memorial Day. (© Tony’s Takes)

Old Glory at sunrise

I may be old fashioned but when I see our nation’s colors flying, I can’t help but get a patriotic feeling. I think back to the places that flag has been, the things it has seen, the hope it brings to people across the world and of course the men and women who have sworn their allegiance to it and served under it.

Throw in a typically gorgeous Colorado sunrise and have that flag flying at Fort Logan National Cemetery and your heart skips a beat. My dad is interred there, as are thousands of others, and while each visit is special, moments like this one this past Saturday make it just a bit more special and poignant.

The United States flag is backlit by a beautiful sunrise at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)

The United States flag is backlit by a beautiful sunrise at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Colorado. (© Tony’s Takes)