RBC I Events like this week’s Veterans Memorial Park dedication tend to get people thinking. Below are highlights from interviews with three Rangely veterans who reflected on the meaning of recognition, remembrance and why they matter.
Question: How can civilians better understand or connect to Veterans Day and its meaning, especially if their family doesn’t have a tradition of service?
Mike Gillard (U.S. Army, 1997-2011, Platoon Sergeant, three tours of duty in Kirkuk, Tikrit, and Baghdad, Iraq): I think people can start off by thinking about the freedoms they have, how fortunate they really are. It’s amazing how naïve even a soldier is of their freedoms until they’ve gone overseas and experienced places where people don’t have any. All of the freedoms we actually have, whether it’s celebrating holidays, being able to practice our religion or being with our families all the time—I don’t take them for granted anymore.
Lisa Hatch (U.S. Army Reserves, 1990-2011, Major, Commander of 419th Transportation Co. in Operation Desert Shield/Storm): I think it helps to look at our history and the reasons people have served and fought. This nation wouldn’t be so great without the sacrifices of our military people. From the beginnings of this country, the conflicts we’ve been part of have helped shape the United States into what it is today. In World Wars I and II, terrible things were going on. People’s rights were being taken away, people were being slaughtered. We went to fight for other countries to make sure they also had their freedoms (and) that they could live without oppression.
John “Hoot” Gibson (U.S. Army, 1966-1968, 1st Lieutenant, toured in Vietnam with 610th Maintenance Battalion): From my perspective and from a lot of other people’s perspective, when we joined the military, we took an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And the majority of us who took that oath do not think the oath expired the day our enlistment expired. It’s a lifelong commitment to our country. And I think most people who served are very proud of their service.
What are the appropriate responses to a veteran when acknowledging his or her service?
Gillard: I think the biggest thing for me is just a thank you. It really is that simple. A lot of times, people try to delve into details to have a better understanding of things. And sometimes those are questions that veterans really can’t afford to even hear, let alone answer, without putting them back into a place that they don’t want to go. It’s a form of compassion, being mindful of where that person may have been or may not have been.
Hatch: If people can look in the eyes of a veteran, say thank you and see what their eyes tell them back, it’s an amazing thing. They don’t have to talk about the suffering they went through and what their service meant to them. Their eyes will tell them.
Gibson: A thank you means a lot, but I also think it’s important to realize the risk or commitment some people have gone through for their community. We have four gentlemen who served in World War II still in the community. We have a number who served in Korea, and there are less of them every year. The Vietnam generation, we’re at an age where we’re dying off, too. I think it’s important for our grandkids to know what this country meant to us and what it should mean to them.
What have the Rio Blanco County Veterans Memorials meant to service members here? How might these spaces get people thinking about service in new ways?
Gillard: It all means a lot. As a veteran, I’ve gone down to Elks Park and seen the bench at the park’s entrance. It puts me back, makes me think about those kinds of things again. When people talked about doing the memorial at Hefley Park, I was all for it. The more it’s progressed … it’s just touching.
Hatch: Any time you can put something visible in front of people to get them thinking about it—anyone who sees that memorial, the kids who participate in the
ceremony Tuesday—it matters. If people take a moment to reflect, get a chance to talk with a veteran or help in their homes, they’re going to feel more a piece of it. We’re a visual people, and when we see it, we begin to think about it and we feel more a part of it. That memorial’s going to force people to think more about what veterans have done.
Gibson: I think because the statue is of a modern-day soldier, it’s going to mean a lot to these younger vets. Most of us in Vietnam served one tour. It was either a year or 13 months in the Marine Corps. Some people volunteered for more than one tour.
Some of these younger guys have done up to seven or eight tours in the Middle East in their three- or four-year commitment to service. I feel they’ve just really asked these kids to do a lot that they didn’t ask us to do. This is one way to honor what all servicemen and women have done for our country.