Remembering Veterans

PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- Last time I wrote a Commander's Commentary, Mother's Day was approaching. This time, another important day of remembrance is approaching: Veteran's Day. Once again, the timing has presented with me with a perfectly fitting theme upon which to comment.

Nearly each week of the year at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, there is a graduation of classes from the various language programs at the Institute. At every graduation, teaching teams, unit commanders & senior enlisted leaders, family members, and friends are recognized, along with, of course, the graduates. Last week's graduation, however, was slightly different. There was a special guest amidst the crowd of family and friends: a veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, who had been a graduate of DLI's class of 1952, when he completed the Japanese language course. At that announcement by the graduation ceremony M.C., all heads turned with amazed grins to see who this "rock star" veteran was, and a long period of applause followed. Upon exit from the auditorium after the graduation ceremony, I happened upon this distinguished veteran and his wife and took the opportunity to introduce myself and to thank him for his service to our country. A bit hard of hearing and wearing his hearing aid, his wife stepped up to tell their story and "interpret" between us - in the span of about five minutes, I heard the synopsis of his impressive military career and how they met. The wife remarked her husband had served in the Army and the Marine Corps and that he was now 85. Although he stood with a cane, he had a full head of silvery white hair, and the sparkle in his eye, the rosiness of his cheeks, and his genuinely modest smile made him look much younger than his years. He bantered a bit of Japanese and asked me about my own language skills, to which I replied I had studied Chinese but admitted it was a bit rusty now. We agreed we had both studied difficult languages.

I asked who their special graduate was whom they were here to see that day, and they pointed to a sharp Marine (what Marine isn't sharp?!) still chatting with fellow graduates and teachers down near the stage, along with his proud, photo-snapping father. The veteran and his wife then pointed to the back of the jacket the veteran was wearing and explained to me that the jacket was the reason they met the Marine. The jacket was proudly embroidered on the back with the Marine Corps emblem and "U.S. Marines" in large letters. The veteran and his wife had been out at a restaurant awhile back, and the jacket had sparked a "meet and greet" between them and the Marine student and his father, and so it happened that they were invited to the graduation at the very school from which the veteran himself had graduated 58 years ago. The veteran asked me how long I had been in the Air Force, and the conversation concluded with him thanking me for my service, which humbled me. It's strange now to that I will someday be among the ranks of veterans, and it's a proud thought to know I'll be amidst the likes of veterans like the one I met that day last week.

On Veteran's Day at the Presidio of Monterey, we will lay a wreath in honor of veterans - not just DLI veterans, but ALL veterans. I will especially remember the DLI veteran I met at graduation recently, as well as the fallen Airmen who are memorialized on the Air Force Heritage Exhibit that sits between the wings of our Air Force squadron building at the Presidio of Monterey, reminding us of that important value of service before self. They are not forgotten. To all veterans: I salute you.