ENID, Okla. —
They were ordinary people.
They were merchants, bakers, lawyers, butchers, farmers, doctors, students, architects, stay-at-home moms, executives, laborers, mail carriers, policemen, firefighters, athletes and teachers.
There was nothing special about them, nothing save their willingness to serve their country.
Their numbers were legion, and there were just as many reasons for them to join the military.
Some wanted an education, others simply wanted a change of scenery, some sought a steady paycheck, others were hoping for a brighter future. Some didn’t join at all, but were conscripted.
They left their families and their homes, they endured basic training and screaming drill sergeants, they marched many miles wearing heavy packs, they polished their boots until they could see their faces in them, and then they polished them again. They slept in holes in the ground, in tiny bunks in the belly of a submarine, in cramped barracks.
They learned the meaning of good order and discipline, of working together for a common goal, of picking up a buddy when he falls, of the concept of service before self.
They moved themselves and their families at the whim of the government, they spent months deployed to far-flung places, many miles from hearth and home. They subsisted on C rations, K rations and MREs. They lived for notes from wives and sweethearts whether lovingly hand-written on scented paper or typed in an email.
They served in every branch of the military and did all manner of jobs. They carried guns, flew planes, swabbed decks, wielded muskets, drove tanks, defused bombs, filled teeth, brandished swords, carried cannon shot, cooked meals and filed paperwork. They served high above the Earth and in cramped boats in the cold, dark depths of the sea.
Many never came home alive. Many never came home at all, their remains scattered on the winds of time or at rest for eternity under a gleaming white cross in a verdant field on foreign soil.
They had one thing in common. They served. They wore the uniform of the United States of America and they wore it proudly.
They did not all charge into a hail of bullets to save a wounded buddy, or pull an injured comrade out of a burning Humvee, or brave withering enemy fire to lob a hand grenade into a machine gun nest, but all were heroes in their own quiet way.
They were heroes because they served, where many others did not.
They are some 21 million of them still alive, 1.6 million of them female. That is 21 million out of a total national population of 313 million. More than 9 million are older than 65, while 1.8 million are younger than 35. Some 11 percent are black, and 5.7 percent Hispanic.
More than 342,000 of them live right here in Oklahoma, 263,000 of which served during wartime.
The numbers aren’t all positive. Some 3.6 million struggle with service-connected disabilities. Every night, more than 62,000 have no bed in which to sleep.
Every day, 22 of them take their own lives. Only 8.7 million of them have a job.
They were ordinary people; still are, truth be told. But today, they are something more. They are veterans, the few who carried the burden of the many, and we owe them our thanks. They were heroes. They are heroes. Our heroes.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.