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Patriotic Article
Military
By Van E. Harl

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Pick up the Phone and Call a Veteran
(March 1, 2010)

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I was in Starkville, Mississippi on Memorial Day weekend, attending the Eagles over Mississippi air show. I volunteer at the local Air Force recruiting office, so I took along some Air Force recruiting pamphlets. I figured I could pass them out to all the young women and men I would surly see at the Air Show.

What I quickly found was a lot of "kids" there with their families, but very few "recruitable-age" young people. What I saw the most of, were older couples. My impression was that a large percent of these "seniors" were veterans. They wore hats, tee shirts, pins and military memorabilia that quietly declared they were veterans. What I noticed was a lot of these "older" veterans who you might mistake as WWII era "troops", were actual Korea and Vietnam veterans.
 

Van E. Harl
Van E. Harl

I was a little taken back, to find so many Vietnam veterans who looked like my grandfather. We see so many movies and TV shows about Vietnam and they always seem to portray that era of veterans as "young". The truth is American service personnel were in Vietnam as far back as the late 1950s. The Korean War is over 50 years in our past. Our veterans are obviously getting older and every year; fewer are showing up at air shows and "reunions". Only, to be mourned by their comrades who are still with us.

In the middle of writing this article I had to stop and phone Lt.Col. Floyd E. Smith. "Smitty" is a retired WWII, Korea and Vietnam, Air Force Veteran. He is in his late 70's and he is the man who convinced me to join the Air Force. I just wanted to make sure he was O.K. "Smitty" was in the hospital this past Christmas and to tell you the truth, the missing man formation I witnessed at Starkville, kind of got to me. I also called four of my uncles who served in WWII, one who served in Korea and a cousin who is retired, WWII Royal Canadian Air Force.

Then I made a call to Major Anne Smith, USAF Ret. She was stationed in Alaska with her join-spouse husband, Lt Col Lane Smith during the same time; I was at Elmendorf, AFB. Lane retired on 20 years and was dead from cancer inside of three years. It is not just the "elder" veterans this country is losing.

I remember in 1963 when the USS Thresher (SSN-593), a US Navy submarine, sank with the lost of 129 officers and men. As soon as he heard of the sinking, my father (who is retired Navy) was on the phone calling some of the wives, of the lost sailors he had known. I was in grade school, but I still remember the look on my father's face as he made those calls. He repeated these actions again in 1968 when the USS Scorpion (SSN-589) was lost.

My sister was at Arlington National cemetery a few years back and took a picture of Major Audie Murphy's grave marker and sent it to me. I was driving to school with my sister, when the news of Major Murphy's death in a plane crash, came over the radio. He had died on 28 May 1971 (Memorial Day weekend). I can not explain it, but I sill think of the man from time to time and I remember him not as a movie actor, but as one of the most decorated American veterans of the 20 century.

One of the "old" veterans I did not call that day (because it was Sunday and I only had his work phone number) was a retired Air Force friend named Bob Day, of San Antonio. This I truly regret, because he died in a plane crash this past summer. I strongly suggest we young "veterans" pick up the telephone and called our "senior" veterans. Better yet, put your uniform on and go visit a retirement-home. I think you will be surprise how many veterans you will find there. I guarantee you, they will enjoy seeing and talking with you. A lot is owed to them and they will not be with us forever.

By Van E. Harl
Copyright 2003

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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