I Don’t Need to Be Thanked for My Service

Thank You for your service,…..”  You have heard it many times and when it first started, it was closer to 9/11.

That was 14 years ago and the flags are  back in their boxes and off the cars.

A veteran understands what another veteran went through.  In the ’40’s just about every male served or was supporting the war effort.  Today it is just under 1/2 of 1% of our population that serves.  That is a sad statistic.

Many of our men and women are home from the sandbox and are now starting families. Most of them are having a hard time re-acclimating.  For this old fellow, Vietnam is a long time ago.  My tour was just one year and nothing to speak about, especially when compared to the many untold stories of soldiers, sailors, and airmen that died over there.

Military family crisisTheir stories were often just brief obits. Maybe just a line in the death notices. They never got home to share the good or the bad of their tour in ‘Nam.  Drafted right out of high school or from a failing semester in college, they raced through boot camp, advanced training, and boarded a World Airways island-hopping flight from Travis Air Base to Tan Son Nhut or Cam Ram Bay.

They never came home to bend an elbow at a bar, got to jump in a lake with hometown friends, to watch Jaws or One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at a drive-in movie. They didn’t go back to college, work in the mill alongside dad or Uncle Will in Pittsburgh, or to smile or maybe wink at a new cute girl.

They never got a chance to start their family to continue their name and legacy.  Their story is now a story of brides not to be, of children never conceived, of school plays never having his unborn son star in, or have him become the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs of their day.

When this writer’s son left for war in Afghanistan, I went to action.  It was time to get off the sidelines and do something at home.  My boy was now overseas and his wife was then with child.  When duty calls, you go.

I have been donating countless hours to veterans, veterans groups, and their special needs ever since. I did not stop when he got home safe.  Many more are still there.

I am not unique or alone.  There are thousands and thousands of veterans just like me doing what we can do to make a difference.

We do it to remember those who did not or could not return with us.  That is what haunts many a veteran.  We just don’t know how we got back, where our buddies didn’t.  We visit the wall and look for names of those we served with and ask, “Is he here?”  Sometimes we are elated not to find a name.  Other times we are saddened and troubled.

Soon, we will be stepping up the pace on a Veterans Memorial at Chapel Hill.  It is one of my projects as a local veteran.

When the question came up as to “Why doesn’t Chapel Hill have a veterans memorial?” we answered.  We created a veterans committee for a memorial.  It is for our local veterans.  It is not just for the dead.  We’ll have a place to reflect, to touch, to remember.  A safe, quiet sanctuary to reflect and say “thank you.”  Thank you for getting me home.  Thank you for giving me a chance to make a difference.  Thank you for helping build a memorial to those I served and lived with.

Memorial stones2We have Chapel Hill Town Council support and a preliminary design.  The memorial is not just for those who died in action.  It is also especially for those men and women who started life in Chapel Hill or came back to our area to grow a family and make a difference.  There are great names and names you may never had heard of.  Names like UNC President William C. “Bill” Friday, UNC Chapel Hill Lightweight Boxing Champion C. V. Cummings, Dr. Sam Klauber, Coach Dean E. Smith, Robert Patton, and renown clothier Milton Julian.  All were cut from the same bolt of cloth.  None really spoke of their military service.  It was not about them.  It was about those they served with and those they left behind.  Learn more about the memorial

I just wanted to share this with you, as a member of Chapel Hill Post 6, as an example of a project that puts veterans in the face of the community.  They can’t miss a veteran who gets involved.  They know who we are from our badges, blue caps, breast emblems, and car decals.  They see us in the mall, at Walmart, on a city bus, at the library, or at Seymour Center.

If you are like me, you’re saying, “I don’t want to be thanked for my service, I want to have others help us grow by being active in or with a veterans organization.  I need them to hand me a hammer, a bucket, supplies, food, or money that I can use to help other veterans and their families.”

 Lee Heavlin
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