I would like to speak of the living veterans who still hold memories of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietmam War and all those younger veterans of the wars in the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Every war is different, but all the suffering and pain is the same. They are all about young men and women willing to give part of their lives for America.
Many of these young people were not able to vote before they entered the military. Many never came home to enjoy the joy of parenthood and to hold their child in their arms. How lucky that some of us had that gift.
Many Americans today have no idea of the true meaning of war. It is not the laughs that some TV shows or movies portray. Ask any parent, wife, sibling or child what war meant to them if their loved one came home in a flag-draped coffin. Ask any living veteran who saw his buddy struck by a bullet or blown apart by a shell what the meaning of war is to them. Any veteran who has been face-to-face with someone who wants to kill them will never forget the sights, sounds, smell or memories of war.
Our veterans who die in battle do not have any choice on the matter. Some die in mud, snow, mountains, swamps, jungles or in the rubble of a bombed-out city. Others yet have died in the world’s deep oceans or in the cloud-filled skies. Those veterans who die in the sky have a shorter journey to heaven. Growing up, I would hear my mother or grandmother speak of angels. I never really knew what an angel was until I came home from war. There, I found out that an angel is a veteran who dies in battle. This is the price he pays to be in God’s army.
Our society today seems to worship and honor so many people who deserve no honor or praise. We worship rock stars, actors and athletes, even criminals who have no respect for honor, service or duty. The hero of a veteran is another veteran. They have formed a brotherhood like a chain, where each is a link that cannot be broken.
On July 27 this past summer, I had the privilege of attending a ceremony in Washington, D.C. where the small country of South Korea offered to thank America and all of the countries that came to their aid in the Korean War 60 years earlier. With me was a close friend and two of my great-grandchildren. It would be a day I will never forget. We sat among 6,000 guests. Some were Korean War veterans and their families. Others were current members of all our military branches. And many others were those of Korean heritage. We listened to beautiful songs and video presentations. There were speeches by American and Korean officials, including the president and Secretary of Defense. There were tears and memories all through the crowd. My great-granddaughter asked me several times, “Pap-Pap, why are you crying?”
Among the video presentations were clips of still-living veterans, sharing their experiences of the Korean War. I would like to share one of these stories. It is the story of Marine Sgt. Salvatore Scarlato: “We were on patrol, going through a village. We came upon three small children lying on the road. They had been hit with an exploding shell. There were two girls of maybe 12 or 13. The girls were dead. The third was a boy, around 10. He was still alive, but one of his hands had been blown off and was lying nearby. I wrapped his hand in my handkerchief and put it into my pocket. I picked the boy up and carried him back to an aid station we had passed. I took him inside and placed him on a table. A nurse there told me that they would take care of him. I went outside to smoke a cigarette when I remembered I had his hand in my pocket. As I walked back to the tent, the nurse came out and told me that the boy had died. I pulled the hand out of my pocket, unwrapped it and washed it off with a little water from my canteen. I went back to where the boy was and laid the hand next to him. After this, I knew why we were fighting in Korea.” When I heard Scarlato’s story, I thought of my great-grandson and granddaughter sitting beside me and I cried again. Later that day, as we left the ceremony, I was lucky enough to actually meet Scarlato. After 60 years, I still remembered what I went through and finally received the answer to my question: “Was it worth it?” The answer was “Yes, it was.”
I would like to end by asking everyone to try to attend a local Veterans Day event. Your presence will make a veteran’s day.
Joseph Barna, U.S. Marine Corps, Korean War, 1952-1953