Rodney Cress: Why today is important

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2011

For more than two centuries, our military has been keeping us safe, passing from generation to generation a tradition of military service that some families cherish.
There is no greater honor than to serve and be called a veteran. There is also no greater feeling that to be in uniform and have someone stop you and say, ěThanks for keeping us safe.î Thatís something we should all do more. When I think of all the thousands of soldiers who gave their lives so we may be free, I am humbled by their sacrifices.
Who can forget the four Army chaplains on board the Dorchester on Feb. 2, 1943, carrying 902 service personnel, when attacked by a German submarine? As the ship was sinking, the four chaplains began passing out lifejackets to the soldiers. With all the lifejackets gone and death all around them, these brave men each removed their lifejacket and placed it on four more soldiers. A total of 672 died that day, but the four Army chaplains will live forever, giving their lives so another soldier could live. They were Lt. George Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander Goode, Jewish; Lt. John Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark Poling, Dutch Reformed. We honor them today.
Then there was Major Charles Whittlesey, who in France in 1918, with 800 men, crashed through enemy lines, only to be surrounded and under attack for five days and nights. Known as the Lost Battalion, only 194 survivors escaped. Whittlesey received the Medal of Honor but later committed suicide in 1921, overcome by the horror of seeing his men killed. We honor him today.
There was Audie Murphy, who received the Medal of Honor as well as every valor medal the Army had to offer, 33 medals in all. He was credited with killing 240 enemy soldiers, was wounded three times and fought in nine major campaigns. Plagued by what he witnessed during the war, he suffered from PTSD, insomnia and depression. Tragically, he died in a plane crash in Roanoke, Va., May 28, 1971. His great-grandparents were born in Iredell County, and his great-great-grandparents were born in Granville County. We honor him today.
Then there was Sgt. Alvin C. York, who once said, ěSir, I am doing wrong. Practicing to kill people is against my religion.î But as he witnessed the enemy killing American soldiers in 1918 at the battle of the Argonne Forest, he killed 25 Germans and captured 132 prisoners. After receiving the Medal of Honor, he refused endorsements, saying, ěThis uniform ainít for sale.î We honor him today.
Veteranís Day isnít solely about documented heroes but about every man and woman who answered the call to defend America. Each is a hero in his or her own right, each leaving their families so you and I can be with ours, each fighting their own private battles dealing with the horrors of war. Every 80 minutes, a veteran commits suicide. During Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, 6,281 soldiers died, and 46,830 have been wounded since Oct. 10, 2001. We honor them today.
History is full of heroes defending freedom. Many, however, were never recognized for their duties or heroic actions. Though a veteran may live with his or her moments in combat, a soldier will always wonder if he did all he could to save a fellow soldier. If they feel like they didnít, it will haunt them forever.
This is where you and I can do our part by making sure our city, county, state and federal governments honor veterans to the fullest, providing them with all resources available to give back for their sacrifices. Nothing is to be spared.
We have veterans in Rowan County who deserve better. It was their duty to defend us, and it is our duty to defend them.
If you can make a difference, then do it, because a veteran would do it for you.

Salisbury resident Rodney Cress is a longtime advocate on veterans issues and founder of the Rowan League of Veterans. Email: cress@carolina.rr.com

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