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A special salute to all our veterans

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COFFEE WITH KEITH

I’ll admit, embarrassingly, that when I was much younger, I didn’t have the respect for veterans I have today.

Sure, I appreciated what they did for our country, but I just didn’t comprehend what that really meant.

I am not a veteran, but I am a proud American who loves his country and enjoys its freedoms. I thank God often that I was born here, raised here and have lived my entire life here.

And as I have aged, my respect and admiration for veterans has grown tremendously. And that really is an understatement.

I thank each and every one of them for their service.

Today, rarely do I get moved more than when I witness some kind of veteran-related event, whether it be a ceremony, a remembrance or – God forbid – a funeral. It is extremely touching to watch that draped American flag lifted, folded and presented; to hear a 21-gun salute; and to listen to Taps being played.

My most memorable moment in my 36-plus years as a professional journalist centers on a veteran. Remind me to share it with you sometime. I know I’ll never forget it.

A couple of months ago when Boerne Star Publisher Jeff Parra and I started discussing putting together a special tribute to veterans section, I jumped at the idea.

Extra work? Yes.

A pain in the rear? Yes.

Worth the time and effort? YES.

That special section appears in today’s newspaper. In it, we feature dozens of veterans who answered our call to submit information about their stint in the military.

Thanks to all who responded. The section is a tribute to you and to all others who have served our country.

When you look through the section, please notice at least a couple of things.

First, note that everyone’s information isn’t exactly the same. Some gave us exactly what we wanted – a brief synopsis of their service. Others provided less, but many provided more, in story form, that we had to decipher and include as best we could.

Second, and more importantly, look at the honors.

Incredible.

Remember, those medals, ribbons and awards were earned while serving our country and protecting us and our freedoms. That matters much, much more than the awards you and I may earn for things we do.

I have about 50 newspaper awards that have dotted my career and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Am I proud of them? Sure.

But at the end of the day, they really don’t matter.

But what these veterans did does.

As I was going through the submitted information, I read the handful of stories that were included. I took the time to read them all, but one in particular made me stop and really remember what serving our great country is all about – and the sacrifices and risks that can be made.

I’d like to share it with you, leaving out that family’s personal information. ...

The daughter wrote: “My father is a proud USMC Vietnam veteran. He was active duty from 1966-1969.

“During his time in the Marine Corps, he was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat V (Valor), Rifle & Pistol expert all four years and represented the Marine Corps in interservice rifle and pistol competitions.

“He was submitted for a Silver Star medal by his commanding officer.

“My father served in the 2/5 and was selected to be a sniper, where he was often loaned out to other units. …”

Folks, get ready. …

“He was recommended for the Silver Star following a harrowing action during heavy fire. My father ignored heavy ground fire while helping evacuate wounded to a waiting helicopter.

“Due to the severity of the enemy ground fire, the helicopter had to lift off, but my father refused to leave a deceased soldier behind. After the chopper left, my father carried the body of his deceased spotter for more than two days through enemy territory, until he reached the USMC area, Firebase Con Tien.

“My father served in a number of major operations in Vietnam, of which his unit received a number of unit citations and awards. He also took part in several major campaigns, like Texas and Hastings. Like most Vietnam veterans, he continues to carry with him everything from his time serving. There are no words to describe how proud I am of him and honored to be his daughter.” ...

Wow!

When I read that, I’ll admit tears came to my eyes. Those tears are there now as I write this.

The daughter is correct. Words cannot describe … I’m at a loss, and I’m a wordsmith.

What an incredible story of bravery and heroism. What an incredible story of serving our country. What an incredible story – period!

I thank this veteran, and all others who proudly have served. You’re all a major reason why I’m proud to be an American and proud to recognize Veterans Day next Monday as a special holiday.

Of course, we should salute our veterans every day of the year, but having a day in their honor is a great thing.

Again, thank you all for your service.

And to all who currently are serving, please come home safely.

You may be “Over There.” But, we need and want you here, too.

As always, thanks for reading.