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With Thanks to our Veterans

  • Published
  • By Col. Brian Newberry
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander
Every veteran is owed an enormous debt of gratitude. Veteran's Day provides a moment to pause and remember the scores of veterans who raised their hand and said, "Send me..."

This holiday was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, to salute our American veterans who won the war to end all wars, World War I. Ninety years later, we are still in the midst of wars and the American veteran, that sentinel always on call, remains as important as ever to preserving our beacon of liberty amidst dangerous waves that buffet our homeland. It is the veteran that acts as a breakwater defending our shorelines from all enemies foreign or domestic. After all, a veteran is someone, who at one point in their life, made a check payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life.

This Veteran's Day, we are in the midst of a 13-year remembrance of the commitment of our Vietnam veterans during that troubled conflict starting in 2012 and ending in 2025. It is unusual for a remembrance to last for more than a day or more than a year, but the fact that the Federal Government has commissioned a 13-year memorialization is indicative of the incredible depth of our tribute to the veterans of this war.

President Obama's proclamation reads: "As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we reflect with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation that served with honor. We pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve bravely, a world away from everything they knew and everyone they loved. From Ia Drang to Khe Sanh, from Hue to Saigon and countless villages in between, they pushed through jungles and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans. Through more than a decade of combat, over air, land, and sea, these proud Americans upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces."

To our Vietnam Veterans, please know that your sacrifices made a difference for our nation as have all those veterans who stood the post before you. Today, our citizenry hearing the echoes of muted support for you, doubles down to provide support to our warriors today. You continued the traditions that have made us the incredible force for good we are today.

Immediately following Vietnam, the U.S. military went to work to learn tactical lessons giving rise to new strategies like air-land battle and perfecting exercises like the vital Red Flag combat simulation.

These strategies evolved to our incredible abilities displayed on the desert sands of Iraq in Desert Storm in 1991, further perfected in the decades of conflict since, where we have gone to war overseas to keep terrorists away from our shores, to preserve our indomitable American way of life. I often think of the incredible support for returning warriors today, including my Airmen, is not in some way a penance and compensation to Vietnam Veterans for their tribulations.

We would not be where we are today, as dominant warriors, in the War in Terror without the torch you helped blaze 50 years ago. So, today we recommit ourselves saluting you for beating the drums of freedom, which still echo today. I always think of our veterans when I drive by the Fairchild B-52D Stratofortress in our honored airpark. That valiant warrior, one of only two B-52s in our Air Force inventory that has downed a MiG, is truly a symbol of the tough Vietnam veteran. Indeed, I can safely say it is emblematic of all veterans. It is an old war horse, but is young in heart...its camouflage hides its stresses and wrinkles, but yet proudly displays our flag on its tail for the world to see. Its shark teeth reflect its warrior bite and the red star shows it victory. That old "Buff" is a veteran standing tall and ultimately representing that old Strategic Air Command motto, "Peace Through Strength."

But that B-52 can do nothing without the veteran to get her airborne, without the veteran to pilot her over the skies of Vietnam, without the veteran to gas her or load her or gunner to guard her or Defender to stand on point while she quietly sat SAC alert for decades.

Recounting what former Vietnam Prisoner of War Lt. Col. McMurray of Coeur d' Alene related to our base last month, a gripping tale of captivity, of sacrifice and fortitude that moved every Airmen in the audience. He reminded us that on the day of his deliverance out of captivity, he was picked up by a shiny Air Force aircraft at the Hanoi airport, which had on its tail flash, our proud American flag. On that foreign airport's ramp, the North Vietnamese painted a yellow line, and as the prisoners of war were called to cross, the welcoming Air Force Brigadier General gave them an embrace and said, "Welcome to freedom".

Today, we do not have to step across a line of freedom because of our Vietnam Vets and all the other Vets who served before them and after, guaranteed we live in freedom. We all know freedom is never free. Our veteran is prepared to pay that price--they always have...