Experience is priceless
Local veterans all had different reasons for serving in the military. Some did it on a whim, others were drafted. Regardless of the reason, and despite the hardships faced during battle or in stateside bases, veterans said they wouldn’t trade their service for anything, and that the lessons learned while serving this country are invaluable.
Former Col. Edward J. Nix, who served 22 years in the Army and fought in Korea and Vietnam, said that Veterans Day is a chance to reflect on the connections he made with those he served with.
The east Cobb resident, who served from 1951 to 1973, said he joined because he felt compelled and obliged to fight to maintain the freedoms American citizens expect and uphold.
Nix was 21 when he was first experienced armed combat in the Korean war, he said. “It was scary. You either survived or dried out real fast,” he said.
He was eventually promoted and commanded platoons for the Army, and said during his 21 years of service he was continually overwhelmed by the dedication and pride all of the young men he worked with had while serving the country.
“It was an honor to serve with those troops,” he said.
Relationships last a lifetime
David Gardner, a veteran of the Air Force who served from 1965 to 1968, broke down in tears when describing the relationships he had made during his service.
“This is my family now. I love them all,” he said of his fellow members of the Horace Orr Post 29 of the American Legion, which is off of Gresham Avenue in Marietta.
Gardner joined the Air Force in an effort not to get drafted into the Army, he said. “I wanted to learn how to work on an airplane,” he said. Gardner worked on bases across the country, in California, Texas and Illinois, as an aircraft mechanic and teacher in aircraft mechanics.
Though his plan for the military didn’t pan out exactly how he had expected and he remembers some pretty brutal Illinois winters with temperatures continually 20 degrees below zero, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for it. … I wouldn’t take the world for it,” he said.
Shift in society
The Paulding County resident feels lucky, however, that he was not “shipped off” like many of his peers to fight in Vietnam.
The societal backlash toward the military during the Vietnam War was rough, he said, and is nothing compared to the treatment of military personnel today.
Gardner remembers coming home and walking through the Atlanta airport, and being asked by strangers how many babies he had killed — a jarring experience, he said.
After the Gulf War, the attitudes toward veterans began to change, Gardner said, and he began to see a shift in society’s opinion of members of the military.
“It’s a lot better now than it was after the Vietnam War,” he said.
Westley Kraner, of Marietta, agreed. He served as an electronic technician on planes while in the Navy from 1961 to 1964, and said that his fellow Vietnam veterans got, “a really bad rap,” in comparison to today’s veterans. Kraner took part in thanking current military members at the airport Saturday, he said, an event that would have never happened 40 years ago.
But, despite the recent changes, Kraner said the government could do more to help out its returned veterans.
“I really think our government puts this military down. The military is what keeps us free” so citizens can go to church, meet to protest and be free, he said, and was disappointed that many veterans continue to struggle with physical, mental and emotional issues.
Honoring those who served
Bernadette LaRocque, the president of the Ladies Auxiliary of Post 29, said that she works to heal the veterans after they return to the states at a personal level, something she sees an urgent need for.
LaRocque works to keep the Legion stocked with food, dressed up in decorations and continuously filled with events and activities to create a strong and supportive community for local veterans.
The widow of a Vietnam veteran, LaRocque said she is inspired by veterans’ abilities to work past their difficulties once returning stateside while maintaining positive attitudes. As the president of the Auxiliary, she often helps local veterans pay their bills, get hot meals and have their medicines delivered to them.
Veteran’s Day is, “when America thanks its veterans for signing a blank check to give their lives” for the freedoms Americans enjoy, “some get it cashed and some don’t. Without vets, we would not have an America,” said Christian Bruce Roberts, of Kennesaw.
The Marine Corps veteran served from 1964 to 1966 as a “ground pounder” in the Vietnam War, he said, an experience that kept him on “the right track” to becoming the man he is today.
Roberts, as well as many of his fellow members of Post 29, will be participating in the Veterans Day Parade today in downtown Marietta. The parade will begin at 11 a.m. at Roswell Street Baptist Church, wind its way through Marietta Square and end between the new Cobb Courthouse and Marietta City Hall.
After the parade, the Legion will be hosting a party for veterans at 2 p.m. at its headquarters, at 921 Gresham Ave., Marietta, where they will serve barbecue, baked beans, hot dogs and homemade pies, Roberts said. All are welcome.