On a hot night in June 1994, my Greyhound Bus ride ended as it pulled into the Fort Sill, Oklahoma bus terminal and the expletives began spewing from the mouths’ of Drill Sergeants Gadson and Robinson. I was a brand new “private”. The lowest man in the rank structure. I went into the Army Reserve with one intent… to earn college money. I had no clue what Veterans Day meant, or what it meant to be a Veteran, and really didn’t care. Five years later I was on active duty, and on a late afternoon in March 1999, I landed in Osan, South Korea as a brand new Second Lieutenant. My priorities had shifted by then and I was in love with the Army. I was an Officer with authority, yet I still had no clue what Veterans Day truly meant. Six years later I was a seasoned Captain, and on a very hot day in June 2005, I landed in Mosul, Iraq. My priorities had shifted again. I didn’t like our presidential leadership, and I was wondering what the hell we were doing in Iraq. I still didn’t understand what a Veteran was, or what Veterans Day meant, but I would learn in the months to follow.
On July 2005, our unit suffered its first casualty. On August 25, 2005, I missed the birth of my second daughter. I had also missed the birth of my oldest daughter six years earlier while serving in Korea. On February 16, 2006, I missed the funeral of my great uncle “Bill”. He was one of the few positive black male role models in my life. I remember reading an email from my mother that morning informing me uncle Bill had passed. As a soldier I was well aware of the risk of losing my life, and of the reality of missing things back home, but I never expected it to happen to me. I remember being angry at God for not allowing me to experience the birth of my kids, and for not being at home for a man that had been there for me my entire life; who I loved and admired. I remember thinking, “I still have four months remaining on this tour, and possibly ten months, if this tour gets extended. What else is going to happen at home while I’m gone?” I started thinking about all the other family events I had missed over the years, not necessarily due to deployment, but certainly due to the Army.
Most military members will tell you that they are not hero’s and they were simply doing what they were trained to do. They were simply doing their job. I feel no different. While deployed, you almost have to forget about your family at home, so you can focus mentally and psychologically on the family you have deployed with. Things that military members accomplish while deployed are not necessarily done for their family members at home, but for the person standing to their right or to their left. To not let that person down. To ensure you return home with everyone you deployed with.
So, to me, Veterans Day is a little more than saying “thank you” for your service. It’s thank you for sacrificing your life and for missing any anniversaries, birthdays, births, deaths, graduations, weddings, and all the other important dates and events. Sacrifice.
Everyone that has served in the military has a different experience, and I would not change mine at all. My entire military experience, including war, has made me the man I am, and hopefully, is preparing me for the man I want to become.
So, as you go about your Veterans Day, or any other day, and you see that homeless Vietnam Veteran, remember he/she has a story. And it’s probably a very good story. You can thank that person by simply listening!!
Veteran Steve Pelmore, Jr., Tax Manager for Hoskins & Company, reflects on what Veterans Day means to him.