I Don’t Need to Be Thanked For My Service
This essay was appeared as a featured guest column in the Raleigh News and Observer, April 17, 2015.
“Thank you for your service.”
You have heard it many times, and when it first started, it was closer to 9/11.
That was 14 years ago, and the flags are now back in their boxes and off the cars.
A veteran understands what another veteran went through. In the ’40s just about every male served or was supporting the war effort. Today just under half of 1 percent of our population that serves. That is a sad statistic.
Many of our men and women are home from the sandbox and starting families. Most are having a hard time re-acclimating. For this old fellow, Vietnam is a long time ago. My tour was just one year and nothing to speak about, especially when compared to the many untold stories of those who died there.
Their stories were often just brief obits. Maybe just a line in the death notices. They never got home to share the good or the bad of their tour in ‘Nam. Drafted right out of high school or from a failing semester in college, they raced through boot camp, advanced training, and boarded a World Airways island-hopping flight from Travis Air Base to Tan Son Nhut or Cam Ram Bay.
They never came home to bend an elbow at a bar, got to jump in a lake with hometown friends, to watch “Jaws” or “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at a drive-in movie.
They never got a chance to start their family to continue their name and legacy. Their story is now a story of brides not to be, of children never conceived, of school plays never having his unborn son star in, or have him become the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs of their day.
When this writer’s son left for war in Afghanistan, I went to action. It was time to get off the sidelines and do something at home. My boy was now overseas and his wife was then with child. When duty calls, you go.
I have been donating countless hours to veterans, veterans groups, and their special needs ever since. I did not stop when he got home safe. Many more are still there.
There are thousands and thousands of veterans just like me doing what we can do to make a difference.
We do it to remember those who did not or could not return with us. That is what haunts many a veteran. We just don’t know how we got back, where our buddies didn’t. We visit the wall and look for names of those we served with and ask, “Is he here?”
Soon, we will be stepping up the pace on a Veterans Memorial at Chapel Hill. It is one of my projects as a local veteran.
When the question came up as to “Why doesn’t Chapel Hill have a veterans memorial?” we answered. We created a veterans committee for a memorial. It is for our local veterans. It is not just for the dead.
It is for those who moved to Chapel Hill, Orange County, and neighboring communities. Some came for college, some for work, and some came for the weather or to be with family.
We’ll have a place to reflect, to touch, to remember. A safe, quiet sanctuary to reflect and say, “Thank you.” Thank you for getting me home. Thank you for giving me a chance to make a difference. Thank you for helping build a memorial to those I served and lived with.
The memorial is not just for those who died in action. It is also especially for those men and women who started life in Chapel Hill or came back to our area to grow a family and make a difference.
There are veterans in our town that you may never have known served. It is when they pass that you learn of their service to our nation. Names like UNC President William C. “Bill” Friday, UNC Lightweight Boxing Champion C. V. Cummings, Dr. Sam Klauber, Coach Dean Smith, Robert Patton, and renowned clothier Milton Julian. All were cut from the same bolt of cloth. None really spoke of their military service. It was not about them. It was about those they served with and those they left behind.
I just wanted to share this with you, as a veteran and member of Chapel Hill American Legion Post 6. A Veterans Memorial is but one example of community service projects that puts our veterans in the face of the community. You can’t miss a veteran who gets involved. They know who we are from our badges, American Legion blue caps or VFW brown caps, breast emblems, and car decals. They see us in the mall, at Walmart, on a city bus, at the library, or at Orange County’s Seymour Center.
If you are a veteran like me, you’re saying, “I don’t want to be thanked for my service, I want to have others help us serve others by being active in or with a veterans organization. I need them to hand me a hammer, a bucket, supplies, food, or money that I can use to help other veterans and their families.”
Lee Heavlin retired from the U.S. Navy after serving 30 year on active duty. In addition to speaking, writing and blogging, he now serves in many leadership roles with veteran organizations. In Chapel Hill, he is commander of American Legion Post 6. He is the founding Faithful Navigator for Divine Mercy Assembly, 3005.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
▪ Veterans Memorial at Chapel Hill – www.chapelhillveteransmemorial.com/
▪ American Legion Chapel Hill veterans in action – www.chapelhillpost6.com
This commentary has also appeared in The News of Orange County (April 22, 2015) and was selected for publication by The North Carolina Legion News.