I enlisted in the U.S. Army and served from June 1963 to June 1966. I had duty stations at Fort Ord, Calif.; Fort Polk, La.; and Korea during 1964. At the time I joined I was motivated by the desire to serve my country along with the realization that I was not motivated or focused on anything after high school and thought I would mature, gain direction and discipline from the service experience. When I joined, the war in Vietnam was not on the horizon as far as we knew and it would be over a year later before the Tonkin Bay blockade escalated us into active combat.
While I did relatively well during my three years of service and parted with an Army Commendation Medal and a rank of E-4, I was not motivated to make a career of it. I wanted to go to college, which I did after separation from the service, eventually earning my Bachelor’s Degree in 1971. For the next 40 years I thought of my Army days like a chapter that I had read in a book sometime in the distant past, but not really about me. Those times were turbulent during the Vietnam years and I moved on building a family and making a life with little thought to my service days. It was not until four years ago or so that I thought about and got in touch with my service days. I began seeing my peers passing away, many of whom were veterans and I began to reclaim my service to my country. I became aware of the American Legion Riders as part of my work to establish a local monument to 9/11 at the Francis Street Waterfront Park. I had invited them to help me display the arriving I Beam from the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City by taking it on an escorted tour around the country. I was tremendously moved by their presence and thought it added so much dignity and reverence to that tour, so I again invited them to attend a provide a “flag line” during the dedication of the completed monument.
I realized that their presence stirred my recollections of my service days and my recognition of how much sacrifice our veterans have made to maintain a free society in America. I began to feel pride and ownership of my service contributions and dredged my experiences from my mental archives and moved them front and center in my awareness and it felt right. I knew that so many gave so much that the very least I could to is to honor my fallen comrades and be there for their grieving families when their time came. I also found a camaraderie and dedication in the ranks of fellow Riders that I had not felt for decades. In the last few years attending flag lines and riding in patriotic events and parades, I have found a place and a way to say a proper “thank you” to those who have contributed so much to the greatness of our nation.
As many of these ceremonies as I have attended, I never cease to jump out of my skin during the 21-gun salute or fail to develop a lump in my throat when taps are sounded or Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes. I feel a personal sense of loss with every passing veteran and every ceremony or service, along with a sense of pride riding with and standing tall with my fellow veterans. We are reminded that “it is always about them, not about us” so we must have our “game face” on for every veteran we salute and their families. I am always humbled by those who sacrificed so much more than I did, but realize that in peacetime or wartime, we must do what is necessary to stay prepared, and my small part is still significant and relevant.
Specialist Fourth Class
American Legion Member, Wendy Yada