Honoring the Military Service Members in Our Lives

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While we are all excited for a long weekend to kick off the barbecues, fireworks and lingering evenings of the summer season, we also know Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember the people who made it possible for us to live in a prosperous and safe country. Many of our team members sent in amazing stories and photographs when asked to talk about their friends and family who served or currently serve our country. Take a moment to read about some of the people we are most proud to know.

Vanessa’s Story:

My mother’s entire side of the family is active or retired military. Both my uncles are retired Full Bird Colonels in the Air Force, both having served in the Gulf War. My cousin Brysen is in Afghanistan flying a lower altitude surveying air craft for the Air Force, My cousin April is an Army ranger, currently kicking down doors in the middle East while her husband (also Army Ranger) stays home with their three year old. My cousin Aaron served two tours in Iraq at the start of the war with the Marines. To top it off, my wonderful grandfather is retired Army.

Gretchen’s Story:

Gretchen’s father Jim Specht was a high school math teacher, before he “retired” to serve as a border patroller on the US/ Canada border in the San Juan Islands. Her grandfather’s name was Jimmie Specht. Mr. Specht sent Gretchen an email a few years ago:

“Dad passed away in 1990.  When Mom was cleaning out the stuff that had been boxed up, she found the old book with the history of the 3rd Marine Division. She asked if I wanted it.  Sure, I’ll take it.  As I paged through it, I found a small slip of paper in Dad’s hand.  I did not remember that from before.  It listed his Division, Regiments, Company, and Battery.  It had been used as kind of a bookmark.  I also got the feeling that paper was meant for me.  I was being reminded to keep the faith.

There are no accidents.  There are no coincidences.  Everything happens for a purpose.

I collect a lot of background information in my current line of work, and actually the search engines I use most often are Google and Google Images.  For most of my teaching career, I never had that kind of access to data.  It’s a little scary how much you can find out if you happen to be motivated.  Today’s teachers have a huge advantage.

So, I had information.  Some was documented, some personal.   Here was what I knew-

Dad had been a cook.  He told me that when you first landed on the beach, everyone carried three days of rations in their kits. On the fourth day on Iwo Jima, the Americans had used up their food so Dad was ordered to set up his kitchen.  He set it up when and where he was told.  Unfortunately, the island was covered with tunnels and rabbit-holes, and the Japanese had watched everything as his crew set up.  They waited until the mess area was packed with men and then they opened fire with artillery, carpeting the area.  They had dialed in the location exactly long before the Americans ever arrived.  Every shot was a direct hit.

I had seen the maps of the battlefield and knew from his papers the date on which Dad was wounded, so it was possible for me to locate precisely where his unit was at that time. Dad suffered shrapnel wounds on the right side of his face near his eye.  I had seen the scars.  He said that he was lucky.  A lot of men didn’t make it. 

He was brought back to Guam where he recovered and was to be billeted until the invasion of mainland Japan, but President Truman saved his life when he ordered atomic bombs dropped and ended the war.  I still have Dad’s Purple Heart.

Almost exactly 67 years to the day it happened, I was refining searches and scrolling thru pictures from the Marine Corps archives, examining photographs from the different campaigns.  Many pages back was Picture # 15—18. It was a photograph of a Navy Corpsman helping an unnamed injured Marine to an aid station.  I stopped and took a deep breath, looking closely at the face of the man who had raised me.  He was only 22 when the picture was snapped.  I could see that he already had seen far too much death and suffering for him to ever be able to talk about.  He had a lot of blood on his face, probably from a concussion.  I doubt that he knew the photo had even been taken.”

Jen’s Story:

I want to thank my brother who served in the Army during 2003. While most of his friends were still in college, he was deployed when he was a sophomore at University of Washington for over a year. Thank you for your service Stevie, we love you!

Philip’s Story:

My grandfather Philip J. Reed served in the Korean War, a trying experience in every conceivable sense of the word.  I was vaguely aware of this fact while I was growing up, but to a child war is a very distant and imaginary thing.  I remember when I was very young I would imitate his limp, and everybody would laugh. There was nothing mean-spirited about it…I was just a kid getting some laughs out of the adults, who encouraged me. It was probably their way of keeping reality at bay for a little while longer…a way of investing again, so much later, in the safe and carefree innocence of youth. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that this was due to a serious injury he sustained in combat in 1957.

Due to a bureaucratic mishandling of his injury, my grandfather never got the Purple Heart that he was due.  He came home from Korea and (to my memory) never talked about it.  He adored, and to this day still adores, the television series M*A*S*H*… an understandable affinity.  He served for several years as commander of his local VFW post in New Jersey, but never said a word about his injury.

In 2010 a congressman named John Adler found out about the decades-old mishandling of my grandfather’s injury, and personally fought – 53 years later – to have the oversight rectified.  Eventually he untangled the red tape and the years of compounded error, and Adler got my grandfather the Purple Heart that I never, until that moment, knew he had earned.

Just one year later, Congressman Adler passed away at the age of 51.  My grandfather attended his funeral.  I never knew Congressman Adler personally, but he helped me know my grandfather just a little bit better, and understand the sacrifice that he made…and always suffered for silently afterward.

Josh’s Story:

Bob Allen- U.S. Marine Veteran, Genuine Badass

 Neil’s Story:

I had the fortunate privilege of growing up an Air Force brat. There were plenty of upsides like having a huge base to explore, plenty of kids around to find some trouble to get into, and the flight line was on the other side of the outfield which made for focusing on the game of little league very hard.

But there were hardships. I remember the uncertainty families faced, including ours, when the Gulf War began. I’ll never forget watching that first night of missiles launching into Baghdad. Part of it was exciting but we knew that meant some big changes were coming. For our family that meant a year of my step-dad being away in Iceland and soon after another few months in Saudi Arabia. As we weren’t alone in this, it was great to be a part of a true community on those bases. The military also meant moving a lot. You weren’t expected to stay in one spot for more than 3 years and this too was taxing on families that had to make new friends and new lives in completely new surroundings with the understanding that even this was just temporary.

Again though, you weren’t alone. The camaraderie between soldiers, sailors, airmen and their families can’t be replicated anywhere else. It was truly a privilege growing up literally around honor and sacrifice. Lessons which will serve me for the rest of my life and have forever put in me a deep respect for those who serve including some of my best friends from college who are now serving across the globe, including Afghanistan, representing every branch of the military. That last fact is one of greatest takeaways of CU I get to carry, that I get to call such honorable individuals friends.

So, on this Memorial Day, whose meaning is to remember those we’ve lost and I most certainly will, my thoughts will also be with those who are currently on the front-line, exposing themselves to danger every day of which they volunteered for and for those veterans like my step-dad who put themselves on the front-line in wars past. I will also read the Pulitzer Prize-winning piece from the former Rocky Mountain News, Final Salute, as I have every Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day for the last 4 years. I recommend all to read it too.

Nelson’s Story:

This is my friend Ramee Opperude with his father and wife. He served a tour of duty in Iraq.

John’s Story:

My great uncle served in WWI. He’s listed in Wikipedia:  George Dilboy (Greek transliteration of Americanized name), (February 5, 1896–July 18, 1918), Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company H, 103d Infantry, 26th Division is thought to be the first Greek-American to receive the Medal of Honor during World War I, for leading an attack on a machinegun position and continuing to fire at the enemy despite being seriously wounded, killing two of the enemy and dispersing the remainder of the gun crew. General John Pershing listed George Dilboy as one of the 10 greatest heroes of the war. Dilboy is buried in Section 18 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Also, my father Dr. Rudolph Harris, M.D. (alive and kicking at 96 years of age!) served as an X-ray technician in WWII stationed in Germany and Japan.

Lucia’s Story:

My grandpa Dick Amman was in the Navy in the South Pacific. He was an electrician on a destroyer escort, I think the ‘Samuel Cole’. He and my grandmother were newlyweds when war started in December 1941. They had my Uncle Chuck and by the end of 1943 my grandmother was pregnant with my mother. That’s when he got drafted. He was in his late 30’s and no one thought he would ever be called up.

Off he went on the boat for a year and a half until the war was over. He saw a lot of action. One of the baby pictures of my mother made it to him with the edges burned because the boat it was shipped on was attacked. Sometimes they only had canned sauerkraut to eat and he blamed Gen. McArthur.

He did not like to talk about the war itself. One of his brothers would try to get him to talk about it and he would say (growl): “If you were there, you don’t want to talk about it. If you weren’t there, you have nothing to talk about.”

In the summer of 1945, my grandma heard he was to be shipped home but didn’t know when. One day three year-old Chuck was playing on the porch. He called in to grandma, “Here comes Daddy!” And sure enough there was my grandpa with his duffle bag on his shoulder walking up the steps. He met my one year-old mother for the first time that day.

Michael’s Story:

My close friend James Jackson was in the Navy and was responsible for training the Naval fleets. He was killed almost two years ago while serving in Guam. I miss my friend dearly and I’m just glad I got to see him one last time here in Denver before he was shipped to Guam.

Andrew’s Story:

My dad in Phan Rang, Vietnam 1968:

Anne’s Story: 

Just 23 years old, my cousin’s son, Tim Larkin, joined the Army to perform Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Tim puts his life on line every day to disarm IED’s. I have deep admiration for his bravery and courage. Also, my brother in-law Mike Dehner serves in the Marines for the Joint Strike Fighter project in Afghanistan. This helps bring cutting-edge technologies to the battlespace of the future.

Alex’s Story:

“Most of the guys I know hate being recognized. But I’ll be thinking about Mike Ackerman, Troy Pusateri and Dan Gohring on Monday.”

 

2 thoughts on “Honoring the Military Service Members in Our Lives

  1. Great stories! My father served in the Army and my father-in-law in the Air Force. I wasn’t surprised when my son made the decision to join the military and I am proud that he an Air Force First Lt. Currently he is stationed in the US but I know at any time he will be deployed. I am very proud of him and Memorial Day means more than just fireworks and a cookout to our family.

    Thank you for sharing your stories!

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