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Column: Ordinary people doing the extraordinary

By Clarence E. Hill
American Legion
When then-Gov. Ronald Reagan introduced returning POW John McCain at a speaking engagement in 1974, the future president asked, “Where do we find such men?”
He was speaking of many veterans, when he answered, “We find them in our streets, in the office, the shops and the working places of our country and on the farms.”
In other words, President Reagan was referring to ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things. And it isn’t just the men.
Army Spc. Monica Brown was still a teenager when she went on a routine patrol as a medic in Afghanistan in 2007. Caught under insurgent fire in Paktika Province, she and her platoon sergeant ran a few hundred yards toward a burning Humvee.
Dodging rounds by only inches, Brown helped pull injured soldiers from the vehicle and rendered life-saving first aid. For her actions, she was awarded a Silver Star, the nation’s third highest combat decoration.
When she enlisted at age 17, the native of Lake Jackson, Texas, had hopes of becoming an X-ray technician, but the Army convinced her that being a medic would offer her the greatest opportunity to help her fellow soldiers. But to credit the Monica Browns and other brave heroes in our military with helping only their comrades is short-sighted. They are helping us. It is America, not America’s military, that al Qaeda and other terrorists have declared war on.
Fewer than 10 percent of Americans can claim the title “military veteran,” and what a list of accomplishments those 10 percent can claim. From defeating communism, fascism and imperialism, to keeping the peace during the Cold War and battling terrorism today, America owes a debt to her veterans that can never be fully repaid.
Historians have said that Dwight Eisenhower was prouder of being a soldier than he was of being the president. While relatively few veterans reach the rank of general, pride in one’s military service is a bond shared by nearly all who have served.
The pride is on display on every obituary page in the country, where military service ó regardless of how many decades have passed and subsequent achievements reached ó is mentioned with the death notice of nearly every deceased veteran.
Can any CEO or distinguished Ivy League graduate truly claim to have more responsibility than the 20-year-old squad leader walking a patrol in Afghanistan or Iraq? While the successful real estate mogul may have sold hundreds of homes and raised a wonderful family, what single accomplishment tops the decisive actions he took during the siege of Khe Sanh, which saved the lives of several of his fellow Marines?
As leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization, it is my job to remember the brave men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States military. The preamble to the constitution of The American Legion calls on us to “preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars.” But those who have not served, in fact, all Americans, should honor the patriots who have.
The American Legion, www.legion.org, supports our heroes through programs such as Heroes to Hometowns, Operation Comfort Warriors and ready-to-assist service officers. We support the families of veterans through a Family Support Network, the American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund and Temporary Financial Assistance, just to name a few of our programs.
We call on all Americans to thank veterans and let them know that their sacrifices are appreciated. Veterans Day is not about sales at the local retail mall. It’s about honoring our heroes.
While veterans are often ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things, it is often an extraordinary family that supports the ordinary veteran. And it is the veterans that have given us this extraordinary country.
– – –
Clarence E. Hill is national commander of the American Legion.

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