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Patriotic Article
Heroes and Patriots
By Van E. Harl

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A Different Kind Of Veteran
(January 21, 2010)

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When you hear the word veteran you think of a GI or sailor who served his time in the armed forces of this country. However there are other military veterans who live in the US, but served in the Army or Navy of another country.

During both WWI and WWII Americans joined the armed services of a number of Allied nations and fought under a foreign flag. Many crossing into US military branches after America joined into both of those wars. Some never did leave their foreign military service and finished their war in the uniform of a different nation. Then there are the immigrants who served in the military of their parent nations prior to moving to the US.
 

Van E. Harl
Van E. Harl

When I taught Air Force Junior ROTC in Mississippi, the day after the 9-11 attack the father of one of my Cadets came to see me about joining the US Army. He was from Nicaragua and had served in that country's army for eleven years before moving to the US. He had infantry skills and he wanted to serve his new homeland. During WWI an entire Army unit was created in New York State called the Rainbow Division. It was made up of new immigrants many who had already served in the military of their former homeland.

The new pastor of the First United Methodist Church, the Reverend David Player here in Altus is an Army veteran, but his service was in the Army of South Africa. He is actually third generation military. His grandfather fought in Europe in the South African Army during WWI. He was captured by the Germans and held in a POW camp, contracting a lung infection while a prisoner. He and some fellow prisoners were able to escape and traveled over the Italian Alps in the winter in order to get back to Allied lines. He suffered cold injuries to include frost bite and damage to his lung – damage that later required the removal of the lung.

Reverend Player's grandfather suffered from what they called shell-shock caused by his front line combat duty. The British had a habit of using colonial troops as canon fonder, so South African troops saw some of the hardest fighting in the early days of WWI. Reverend Player's father was a maintenance troop in the South African Air Force during WW II, serving in North Africa. Reverend Player's father suffered from what they called in WWII, battle fatigue. Fighting in North Africa in 1939 and 1940 were extremely difficult. Again Great Britain depended on colonial troops to do the lion's share of the fighting. That part of WWII is not well know in US history books because America was not yet in the war.

As he talked about his father and grandfather's military service a pattern of mental health issues were discussed and the stress on the family life. We now have a new modern term for the emotional aftermath of combat; it is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Reverend Player also served in the South African Army as a mechanized infantryman. We have not had a draft in this country for over 30 years but in South Africa there was a draft for all males, who had to serve two years on active duty getting their initial training. Then they spent the next ten years in what we would call the active reserve. He got called up once a year for up to 30 days and twice in the ten years for three months. Plus over this entire ten years he had to attend reserve drill meetings one night a week. And then basically he would have been in the inactive reserve of the South African Army until he was 65, subject to call up at any time – makes US military reserve service seem a little tame.

In the US we know little about South African wars. Corporal David Player fought in South West Africa (Namibia) and Angola. Reverend Player came to the US to attend seminary and become an ordained Methodist minister, but did not plan to emigrate permanently. He fell in love with our country and in 2002 he became a US citizen. He is a former foreign veteran, who is now a new citizen of this nation. His office which is full of hunting, African, and military memorabilia is not like the typical Methodist minister's work place. He has and continues to aim high for his new country and now for Altus America.

By Van E. Harl
Copyright 2006

About Author:
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state police officer in Nevada.

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