The Elsberry Democrat Intern
The most trying portions of this great test, the death and destruction of war, leave behind men and women that continue to live in our societies, changed completely by their experiences.
On June 12, I had the opportunity to discuss these trials and tribulations with just a small selection of the country’s veterans. The men that I talked to had served in 1948 at the earliest and 1986 at the latest, in the Korean War, the Vietnam War and at the Berlin Wall.
Some of these men, as a consequence of their service, had the opportunity to see parts of the world that they would not have imagined otherwise.
Others learned useful skills that they have since utilized in their civilian lives. Others still attained virtues during their service that they hold to high esteem.
The event hosted at Double Eagle Ranch, the Veterans Appreciation Day, is best described as a luncheon or nature outing.
The day’s events included fishing; a lunch consisting of brats, burgers and hot dogs either slathered in barbecue sauce or not; tours of the property; and horseback riding in the on-site arena.
Veterans congregated around tables under canopies, engaging in conversation with those around them, their friends and families; they fished at the pond at the bottom of the property; or they took a tour down dusty roads through the forests and around the shooting range.
Double Eagle Ranch operates over 1,000 acres of land, all of which is located in the most beautiful landscape of the country. The rolling Lincoln County Hills and lush Missouri forests hearken to a time of simpler pleasures, the rock faces and cliffs remind visitors of the hardships of the land.
Attendees were so appreciative of the opportunity to enjoy Lincoln County’s natural beauty that a plaque was given to Ed Potter, the man who selflessly offered his time and resources for the event.
This being my first journalistic assignment in what I hope will be a long and prosperous career, I was nervous to strike up conversation with complete strangers in an unfamiliar location. These men had much more life experience than I, on the order of years and years, and I had no idea where to begin.
After some time spent taking pictures of the various elements of the event: the aforementioned picnic tables and flags, as well as two clydesdales and many other inane elements of the setting, I approached two men who had been locked in conversation with each other. They were both Sailors, one served in Vietnam while the other had served in the Eighties, but the former Sailor did most of the talking.
Unsurprisingly, these two men told me the greatest lessons they learned from their service were discipline and respect. The former sailor, however, told me of his travels across the world, and his philosophical views of service. He viewed his enlistment as a “four year contract.” At the end of that four years he said he could have “stayed in or got out, and [he] chose to get out.”
That first interview cast a few different molds for the remainder of my conversations that day. At the end of the day, all but one of the men I interviewed valued greatly the discipline that they had learned from their service.
I also found that those who had served during the 1960s and 70s were more abundant and talkative than any other group at the event. All of the men I spoke to would recommend service to young Americans today, albeit with occasional conditions. None of the men regretted their service, and all of them looked back on it fondly.
While there were many common responses throughout the day, the most opinionated man by far was a man drafted for Army service during the Vietnam war.
This man, whose name I will not include here in an effort to protect his privacy, had been drafted at the age of nineteen in 1969, an age deemed too young for democracy or alcohol at the time, but just old enough to fight and die with strangers in a foreign land.
He told me that this hypocrisy, along with the love that he had to leave at home, made departure an extremely difficult task. When he left America, he thought he had already reached manhood, having been nineteen and married, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. His experiences in the Army forced him into maturity. His experiences in Vietnam were gruesome.
At first glance, his experience in the service does not seem appealing, but he still looks back on it fondly. He refused to allow his time in Vietnam turn him against his country. In fact, he credits his service as making him more appreciative of the United States. His service taught him that “life is so short,” and to “make every day count.” Even though every day he faced trials that may have kept him in the jungles of Vietnam or sent him home in a coffin, he still looks back fondly on his service. He still recommends service. He still loves his country.
At the end of the day, I took with me a plethora of different quips and anecdotes. Every man I talked to was more than happy to provide some piece of their storied past. Appreciative as I am of their participation, I set out to write an article about one important lesson I could learn from our nation’s veterans.
Personally, my favorite contenders were “Learn math,” and “Join the Air Force,” but these seemed to lack the severity required of this sort of thing.
Instead, I offer the following as advice to my readers: “Don’t forget the past, welcome new experiences, and son, join the Navy.”