On this Veteran’s Day, we stop for a minute to honor those who have served in our nation’s armed forces. During the two wars, the day assumes greater significance. I have written in this space about my friend, 1SGT Carlos Saenz who was killed in Iraq when I was serving there. I know to some people, the Veteran’s day thing and Memorial Day both can seem likes days of sadness and mourning. Yes, these days call for some mourning. But, I have to say to those civilians with little or no military experience, it is terrible to lose someone. But, we gain something, too.
For most of us, serving overseas in a war zone is one of the most positive experiences we will ever have. My friend, 1SGT Saenz was a very fine soldier. He inspired all who worked with him. If we measure success in life by making a difference, 1SGT Saenz lead a very fulfilling life his last 12 months on this earth. I do not doubt that 1SGT Saenz and the other 4500 casualties of the two wars are looking down now on us with some satisfaction. They gave their all up to the very last minute of their lives. How many of us can claim we truly gave our very best effort in toward some great endeavor?
Back when I played high school football, the coach was always fussing at us to give 110% every game and every practice. The thing about serving in a war zone is that 99.9% of the players on our team do give 110% everyday. My time in the war zone was intense and tense, everyday. No job was too trivial, no job too small. It all counted. I am proud to say that we gave our all. Everyone of us.
HBO produced a wonderful series several years ago, Band of Brothers. It recounted the experience of one infantry company from training in the US to deployment to the European theater. The show captured the strong sense of comraderie and selflessness in a good military unit. It was based on the book of the same name written by Stephen Ambrose. The book captured one detail that spoke to me. One soldier in the Band of Brothers was "Popeye" Wynn. Popeye Wynn served with distinction during the war. He was the soldier who apologized to his commander for getting wounded. After the warm he returned home to Virginia. His post-war life did not live up to his wartime success. He said himself that the war brought out the best in him.
The remarkable thing about good military service is that it will bring out the best in men and women. Serving others makes you better than you are. In Iraq, we served on a team of 150,000. For a great many of us, it will be best thing we will ever do.