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Commentary: Writer is 'Proud to be an American' this Veterans Day

BY Tom Westervelt


I served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, spending three months in orthopedic wards in Vietnam, Japan and the U.S. During that time I met hundreds of wounded soldiers, and hundreds more when I was assigned to Irwin Army Hospital in Ft. Riley, Kan. The faces are still fresh in my mind.

Needless to say I am grateful to people such as Virginia Lamb who wrote, "Proud to be an American." The writer's sister summers in the Park Rapids area. The following is a story written by Virginia Lamb that was forwarded on to my wife.

"My thoughts after a somber parade: I must confess I skipped church this morning and went to a parade instead. At this parade there were no clowns or funny cars, no pretty queens and no candy being thrown for the children to run out and grab. It was not a sunny, summer day.

By contrast, this was a cold, blustery, cloudy, Minnesota November Sunday the week when we in America celebrate Veteran's Day. The parade was a veterans' parade at the VA Medical Center in St. Cloud. I cried through the whole parade. I just couldn't help it! I was vividly reminded that "Freedom" is not "free" and this parade honored true American heroes. There were veterans of all ages. There were Army veterans, Navy veterans, Marine veterans, and Air Force veterans. Some marched, some were aging veterans being pushed in wheel chairs, covered up with blankets to guard against the cold. Those who couldn't be out in the cold rode through the parade route in the bus.

They were smiling and sharing a salute with another aging veteran standing near me along the parade route. Some walked with canes, some rode on the "float" for the organization, Women in the Military. The only musical instrument was a lone man playing a bagpipe.

VFW groups marched with their flags, as did the American Legion groups, Viet Nam veterans groups, and my husband proudly carried the flag of Chapter 9 of the Disabled American Veterans group. The Gold Star Mothers were there with their float covered with stars containing the names and dates of fallen heroes.

We were called to remember the POWs and MIAs when that familiar black flag went by. Not all were old. Not all were veterans. I watched a National Guard unit march by and was struck by how young these men and women looked - maybe only three or four years older than our oldest grandchildren. I wondered if they had yet been deployed, or to what action they may be called. They looked so proud to be wearing the uniform. Then there were the children. Some were giving out flags along the parade route. There were Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownies, and Girl Scouts walking with their troops, carrying American flags, banners and signs with slogans supporting the troops.

Some carried signs with names on them. I wondered if it was the name of the little girl's or boy's older brother, or father, or maybe even a grandfather. Or it could have been her mother or sister deployed to some land far away. I wondered how many of these children will be wearing the uniform in years to come and will any of them give the ultimate sacrifice for this country?

I watched the Patriot Guard ride in before the parade. They parked their motorcycles and got out their big American Flags. They lined the beginning of the parade route with their flags on both sides. They concluded the parade riding their motorcycles with their flags. Some had probably been veterans, some not, but they are proud to be Americans.

I'm sorry I had to skip church to go to this parade but I'm also glad I did. I also confess that through my working years, Veterans Day for me was a shopping day with friends. We had so much fun and I wouldn't take those days back for anything, but I didn't take time to celebrate the true meaning of Veterans Day.

So this year I am saying a big "thank you" to veterans of all ages. This Veterans Day, I ask you to show your appreciation to veterans you know. Say a prayer for those serving in the military. Thank God for the freedoms we in America too often take for granted. Whether you agree or disagree with them, pray for the leaders of the United States of America. May God Bless America! May we always be able celebrate our freedoms and remember that they didn't come free."