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Greatest Generation

I grew up in Magnolia in the 1950s listening to my father talking about his Naval Air Corps squadron, looking at the magazines he'd saved, seeing the photos of his F4F fall from the carrier, hearing about how he'd had to ditch in the Atlantic and be picked up by a British destroyer; listening to my uncle Jimmie Red talk about his B-24 squadron's missions over Europe, how he was in the belly of the plane over the backs of the beaches on D-Day; how my mother somehow got up to Camden to work in the munitions plant.

They survived, came home, started families, and went to work helping rebuild America, as did many millions of other Americans. They are gone now, but not a day goes by that I don't think about them and marvel at their courage, resilience and unity during those perilous times. Tom Brokaw had it right when he wrote about the Greatest Generation.


El Dorado

Important distinction

My initiation as a platoon leader in Vietnam was on the day the platoon leader I was to replace was killed. The helicopter that brought me to the platoon spotted suspicious activity. First Lt. Joe Poe, on what was to be his last day in the bush, led a squad to investigate. He was shot and bled to death. I accompanied his body on the helicopter ride back to base.

My platoon did not have enemy contact while I was there. I don't know, but my guess is most soldiers passed through Vietnam without being shot at or shooting at anyone. I went through ROTC and "volunteered" under threat of the draft. I was a typical "citizen soldier." Not a lifer. Not gung-ho.

That is all context for my comment.

I was a soldier. I was not a "warrior." Speaking only for myself, I think the warrior description is overused. Warrior is a sexier word, thus better for marketing the military. A warrior is one who fights. A warrior is, almost by definition, a hero.

A soldier is one who does their job, sometimes in combat, usually not, just like in real life--an important distinction. I've never been called a warrior or a hero and would be embarrassed if I were.

I give the Wounded Warriors Project a pass. I understand that using the sexier word, and the alliteration, helps market the project.

To those now serving and veterans, I say: Soldier on. Your country needs you.



War weighed heavily

Today I think of my dad, Walter Corley, a 22-year-old farm boy who landed on the beach in French Morocco on Nov. 8, 1942, with the 9th Infantry Division, one of the units commanded by George Patton.

He was a lightweight machine gunner whose life expectancy was less than a minute in combat, yet he fought across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and into Sicily before being wounded from a mortar round exploding in the crater he was firing from. He never discussed the horrors he saw, but being the only returning member of his entire company weighed heavily on him the rest of his life.



The hero next door

As we honor veterans today, let us also recognize how quickly many are passing. We recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II; few of these veterans remain. Likewise, our Korean and Vietnam veterans are leaving us all too soon.

I joined the Army National Guard during college, and attended basic training in the summer of 1991. Returning to my hometown on the way back to school, I talked with an elderly neighbor as he tended his garden. What he said that evening absolutely stunned me then, and still awes me today.

My neighbor was a retired coal miner. As a child, I had always been interested in the military. My neighbor well knew this. However, it was not until I'd become a soldier too--however young and inexperienced--that he shared his story of service.

To my amazement, he told me that not only was he a soldier during WWII, but that he served as a paratrooper. He then went on say that he'd been a member of the illustrious 82nd Airborne Division, and had jumped into Normandy on D-Day! I could not have been more shocked.

My neighbor was a frail old man by then. He flew no flag, nor did he wear medals, patches, or hats to witness his service. As a younger man, he had participated in some of the most intense combat one could ever experience. He only spoke about his time in the Army quietly, and very selectively. I rarely saw him after this conversation. He died a few years later.

I carry this memory with me, and think of other veterans who quietly live their lives. Men and women who make no claim for glory or appreciation for their service and sacrifices.

We still owe them a debt of gratitude. Please give that little old man who lives next door a break, and maybe a little more respect too. He may once have been more of a hero than most of us will ever know.


North Little Rock

Col. Daniel T. Bilko commands the National Guard Professional Education Center on Camp Robinson.

Respond with respect

First of all, thank you to all of our service members for the protection of our country. Thank you to our military families for supporting their loved ones in their duty to country.

Thank you to our police and intelligence members for keeping our country safe from criminals and those that would harm our nation. Thank you for the firemen and women who respond to emergencies battling fires and saving lives. Thank you to our EMTs for saving lives, no matter what the situation is.

Too little is said or remembered by our citizens when everything is going as it should; only in emergencies do we respond with respect. Let's change that with a kind word or gesture to all our service members. What can you do to make their lives a little better?


Bella Vista

Editorial on 11/11/2019

Print Headline: Letters


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