College Matters | Honoring those who serve on Veterans Day

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, November 10, 2022 - 2:00pm

There is no way to properly thank our veterans for all they have done and everything they have sacrificed for our freedom, but on Veterans Day, we have to try. So, from two veterans to all the servicemembers out there — past and present — we thank you for your service and sacrifice. Thank you!

Every family likely has a story about someone who has served in the Armed Forces. Some are about heroes with great tales of valor. Many are about the simplicity of doing one’s job for the greater good. Still others might look upon the opportunity to have served that has since passed them by, and wonder, how might my life be more enriched or meaningful if I had enlisted?

To some, the veteran is simply someone who takes orders and follows rules. It really isn’t that way. A veteran is the most patriotic and committed person you will ever meet. Every veteran did at least one extremely important act in signing their name and committing to service for their families and their country above all others. In doing so, each was willing to stand for something greater — service, patriotism, loyalty, honor, integrity, and intelligence.

Veterans distinguish themselves in many ways. Serving in the military is not for everyone. As of September 2020, we had 481,254 people serving in the Army as active duty members, 341,996 in the Navy, 336,703 in the Army National Guard, 329,614 in the Air Force, 180,958 in the Marine Corps, and 40,558 in the Coast Guard.

Keith Flamer: A few months ago, my 11-year-old grandson and I were discussing a book he was reading about the role the Marine Corps played in World War II. I know I’m bragging, but my grandson is pretty smart. We talked about the island-hopping strategy in the Pacific Theater and he shared with me an account from a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima.

At some point during the conversation, he asked me why I joined the Marines out of college. I told him that people join the military for a variety of reasons. They want to serve their country, learn a skill or trade, prove something to themselves, get away from home, travel, do something physically challenging, get money for college, medical care, learn structure and discipline, or get experience for a career in the civilian workforce.

My reasons, I told him, were a little different. I grew up in a military family (my father was a 25-year veteran of the Air Force) and honoring that tradition was important to me. So why join the Marine Corps rather than the Air Force (as my parents wanted me to do)? As a student of history, I knew that from its very beginning until Roosevelt’s 1941 Executive Order 8802 that prohibited all racial discrimination in the Armed Forces, the Marine Corps refused to recruit African Americans and other minorities. The executive order forced the Corps, despite objections from its leadership, to begin recruiting African American Marines in 1942.

In early 1942, the Marine Corps established a camp in Montford Point, N.C., as a recruit depot to train African-American Marine recruits. Between 1942 and 1949, approximately 20,000 recruits received basic training at Montford Point, most of them going on to serve in the Pacific during World War II as members of support units.

As a young man of 20, I saw the Montford Point Marines as important figures in American history, because they willingly fought to protect a nation that still did not offer them basic civil rights. Their actions set the precedent for the Corps, and I joined the Marines to continue their legacy.

Tom Jackson: As a young boy I was visiting my grandmother in Kansas City. In the basement was a sword. There were many things of interest to a bored little boy at Grandma’s, but a sword was an instant new toy. As I pulled the sword from the shelf, my aunt started to explain to me its significance. It had belonged to my grandfather, who was long gone by then. He had served in the Army. That moment, along with seeing countless photos from my father’s experiences in the Air Force, led me to realize that I also wanted to serve.

My father did not talk about his service very much. It was during the Korean War and he was an electrician, something he would later do his entire life for the City of Seattle Engineering Department. From his many photos, one could see tales of his service in Morocco, San Antonio, and near Tacoma, Washington. He liked to explore. But he was a genius when it came to electricity. By default, something mechanical would become my hands-on trade.

I knew I wasn’t going to attend college right away. I wanted to do something different. Like Keith, it seemed I should head to the Air Force, but being a part of a big branch of service was not appealing to me. I wanted to be part of a smaller unit and that was the Coast Guard.

In the Coast Guard, I felt like I was helping people while honing a trade I could use later. I liked duty on the small boats as part of a three-person crew. I liked being on the water. I liked sitting in the engine room. I liked my friends, and remain in contact with many to this day. Never did I imagine it would springboard me to other military opportunities in the National Guard or state defense forces. Earning a commission and training others became my most rewarding work.

Over the years, like all of us, we have observed the role our military branches have fulfilled. Each time we see a Coast Guard helicopter overhead, we know they are either training to rescue someone, or actually rescuing someone, risking their own safety to help another.

We can learn a lot from how our societies, or our campuses, show their care for a veteran. How we care says a great deal about us and our values. When most in need, or when we might be in our greatest conflict, who is most willing to stand up front and lead selflessly?

On this Veteran’s Day, for all who have served, thank you.

Dr. Keith Flamer is the president of the College of the Redwoods. Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt. Both are military veterans.