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Veterans deserve our respect and admiration

Coming of age in Savannah, as I did, one was constantly in the presence of military personnel. Savannah, with its strategic port, has always worn a target around its bejeweled neck and thus has always been well-fortified and defended. When I was a kid, Savannah had Hunter Field and Travis Field. Travis Field was home to the Air National Guard. Today it is Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport. Hunter Field is now Hunter Army Airfield and boasts a large military presence. It is the jump off point for soldiers from nearby Fort Stewart to hot spots worldwide. During the Vietnam era, someone had the bright idea of bringing South Vietnamese pilots to Savannah to learn how to fly the Huey helicopters that constantly filled the skies around the city. They worked out of one or both of the two bases. The Vietnamese were notoriously poor navigators and followed I-16 on training flights. I-16 was incomplete back then and only went about 30-40 miles outside the city. Still, drivers routinely came upon Hueys crashed in the median between its lanes. Back in the day, my late uncle Bobby Lanier ran the NCO Club at Travis Field. He lived next door to his parents, my grandparents. I spent much time there and there were always military people around. We credit Uncle Bobby and his friends with starting the Big Green Egg craze when they smuggled hibachi grills back to Travis Field on military aircraft from the Philippines. Savannah has a soft spot for servicemen. Even Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman spared Savannah from the scorched earth policy that he visited upon other towns during his March to the Sea. Helen Harris, a pretty girl who grew up across the street from me in Savannah’s Fairway Oaks subdivision, married William Tecumseh Sherman IV. The place is pretty much a ‘˜no hard feelings’ town. I thought about all this as I attended two Veterans Day observances last week. The few remaining WWII vets are growing long in the tooth. The Vietnam Vets, those just a bit older than me, are also showing their age. So, sadly, am I. I thought of one in particular – another kid from the neighborhood. He was a few years older than me. He was friendly and outgoing. Then he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. I don’t think he was ever hit but his mind was never the same. He lived in a little camper trailer way out in the woods. He established his own little perimeter just as he had in the bush. Family members took him food and provisions for 10-15 years, maybe longer. One day they arrived to find he had blown his brains out. He could never come to grips with the demons that followed him back from southeast Asia. I thought of him as I watched the Honor Roll service at Gordon State College on Veterans Day. It was a solemn, somber observance. Some students participated. Most walked by oblivious. They never took their eyes off their phones or their headphones from their ears. They apparently have no appreciation for those who fought and died that they might be free to pursue an education. And that, dear friends, is tragic. Perhaps we need to reinstate the draft to get their attention. Under one half of one percent of Americans are now in the military. During the WWII years, that number was 12% but seemed much higher. Every family from that time sent sons – and some daughters – off to serve their country. Were those students at Gordon taught in their formative years about the great wars and American sacrifice or were they busy getting participation trophies and preening their feathers in sessions designed to boost their self esteem? I watched intently the veterans at the event. They, too, saw the students walk on by. I could see the hurt in their eyes. They’ve had enough hurt! They’ve earned respect and admiration and they have mine. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette and Pike County Journal Reporter.

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