ENID, Okla. — Editor’s note: This column was first published Nov. 11, 2007.
They claim not to be heroes, preferring instead to bestow that title on others they deem more deserving.
They say they are only doing their jobs.
They have been doing that job for America for more than 221 years.
They heard the first shot fired at Lexington and gave as good as they got in return.
They were routed by Cornwallis in New York and followed Gen. Washington across the Delaware.
They vanquished Burgoyne during the second battle of Saratoga, then froze and fought disease at Valley Forge.
They stood side by side with John Paul Jones on the deck of the Bonhomme Richard and marched triumphantly into Yorktown.
They saw the White House burned by British invaders, but cheered as the flag for which they fought kept waving in the rockets’ red glare over Fort McHenry.
Later, they won the day with Andrew Jackson outside New Orleans.
They sang camp songs and dodged musket balls in places like Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and they died there in droves.
And they cheered the day the strange, sad war between brothers ended at Appomattox Court House.
They sailed with Admiral Dewey in Manila Bay and rode with Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill.
They went “over there” to fight in the Great War, manning trenches at Cantigny, Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood, and mourning those lost at Meuse-Argonne.
That was supposed to be the “war to end all wars.”
It wasn’t, of course.
They died on an early December Sunday morning in Hawaii, and the Great War suddenly was merely the first of two that would engulf the world.
They manned submarines off the Solomons, stormed beaches at Guadalcanal, Attu, New Guinea, Normandy, Kwajelein, Saipan, Guam, Tinian and Iwo Jima.
They fought naval battles at Midway and Leyte Gulf. They fought their way through French hedgerows and Italian towns. They battled the heat in north Africa and the Pacific, and the cold of European winters.
They flew bombing runs over Germany and made the most of their 30 seconds over Tokyo.
They drove into Berlin and delivered unimaginable destruction to the Japanese mainland.
They then danced in the streets when the war ended.
It wasn’t long before they were called on again, and they were shipped away to fight and die in places like Osan, Pusan, Inchon and the Yalu River.
In less than a decade, American boots were on the ground in a tiny southeast Asian country called Vietnam.
In the ensuing years, they would be called upon again to put themselves on the line in places like the Gulf of Tonkin, Binh Gia, Dong Xoai, Da Nang and Khe Sanh.
They liberated Grenada and Kuwait, they toppled Saddam, they pursued terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan.
They have left their homes, their families and their jobs.
They have saluted everything that moves and painted everything that didn’t.
They have dug latrines, marched in the early morning chill, done pushups and tackled obstacle courses.
They have shaped up and shipped out, they have taken to the skies and put boots on the ground. They have vanquished some nations and liberated others. They have been called gobs, leathernecks, dogfaces, Billy Yanks, grunts, doughboys, swabbies, GIs, Minutemen, jarheads and flyboys.
They are soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
They are all the men and women who now are serving or who have served the United States of America. They are veterans, and we owe them a debt of thanks we can never repay.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.