I had the privilege to participate in the Veterans Day ceremonies at Wake Forest University last Wednesday.
A copy of the program and the appreciation plaque presented to me by LTC Keith Brace are displayed here. Click to enlarge them for better viewing.
No one went to sleep or appeared bored during my remarks which lasted 10 to 12 minutes. The speech is printed below.
Have a good week!
It is an honor for me to be here today. There are two reasons I feel that way. The first reason is because on June 8, 1970 I was here to see my wife graduate this great university. She graduated the same day that PGA Golfer Arnold Palmer was awarded an honorary degree from Wake Forest University. This bit of trivia always comes up when Doreen’s graduation day is discussed. The second reason is because of this National holiday and the opportunity it brings to address current students, faculty, and friends of the school.
I gave this speech the title, “The Life Cycle of a Military Veteran”.
My status as a veteran began when I was age 22. By that time I had volunteered and completed three years of military active duty. Doreen and I married on September 6 of ’69 and on September 15 she resumed classes here to begin her senior year. At the same time I entered my freshman year of college at another school. I was in college for the first three and one-half years of our marriage. The G. I. Bill paid my tuition and most fees.
After I graduated the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I started my career with Hanes, which later evolved, into Sara Lee Branded Apparel. I worked in the corporate offices with the best and brightest of people for a wonderful career of 32 years. The lessons I learned in the military and the skills I developed there enabled me to flourish in civilian life.
I grew up in Forsyth County. The people I met in the Army were from all across the United States. I learned about people and cultures, weapons, machinery, airplanes, parachutes, infantry, and much more. I received training along with everyone else as we worked and lived together. We accomplished missions by executing the plans with each team member fulfilling responsibilities. We were supervised and led by high caliber leadership. Some of us discovered leadership ability in ourselves and were allowed to practice that attribute. The skills I developed as a Private First Class and later a Sergeant E-5 carried over into college, family, and work life. The skills of planning, setting objectives, defining short and long term goals, and desire for personal growth worked well on factory floors and in executive board rooms.
My status as a veteran was largely unknown in the corporate environment. The climate at that time was cool toward veterans of my age. But, the lessons I learned in the military combined with my education paid great dividends. The Federal Government classified me as a “highly compensated employee” for twenty of my thirty-two years at my career job. This classification limited my participation in the 401-k plan to 5% of income compared to 15% for other employees. During thirty years I paid the maximum into Social Security. Now, retirement benefits are paid to me at near the maximum rate for my age.
My career job is behind me and my children are grown so this veteran has begun to attend military reunions to reconnect with comrades who served in the same combat platoon and company that I did. We are corresponding, meeting, exchanging old photos, and catching up with each other after 43 years. The red and white cavalry guidon still represents Troop A, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry. This unit is still active and has served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is easy and fun for us old timers to bond with the young guys when we meet at reunions.
I now carry this VA ID card with a U. S. flag printed in the background. It shows my picture and displays my name along side a bar code. I can go into any VA Medical Center emergency room anywhere in the United States. When this card is swiped there, the doctors will see my health history. My height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, current blood work analysis, past surgeries, and other vital health information are in the database. If there were medications, they, too, would be visible there. Doctors can then treat me if needed.
When my wife and I die, we’ll be buried in a National Cemetery. The first to pass will be buried 9 feet down and the next to die will be buried 6 feet down on top of the first. The cemetery plot, opening, closing, and marking of the grave will be at no cost to the family. Perpetual upkeep of the National Cemeteries is a Federal Government budget line item.
The opportunities I’ve described are available to most veterans who served honorably regardless of military branch, rank, or Military Occupation Specialty.
Most veterans, like most non-veterans, vote in elections, pay their taxes, volunteer time, donate blood to the Red Cross, contribute money to United Way, and otherwise fulfill the responsibilities of good citizenship.
Ronald Reagan High School is only a few miles from here. When I’m there in the classrooms subbing for teachers, I often talk to the students in an effort to inspire them to learn. I sometimes explain it this way: I say, “We learn by seeing and hearing. We process in our brain the information taken in through our eyes and ears. If we act upon the newly acquired information by writing or speaking it, then more of it is retained. For example, in algebra, students need to factor a polynomial without help to really understand the concept, not expect retention by only watching and listening to the teacher solve the problem. Likewise, the act of moving a pencil to write causes a deeper understanding of knowledge inside our head.” I urge the students to go beyond the printing of written words and employ cursive writing to enhance their penmanship.
I tell you this to make a comparison. Citizenship is a similar concept. A person can see examples and hear words about liberty and freedom and reach a level of understanding. But when the same person puts on the uniform and spends time on active duty, a new dimension of citizenship occurs just like with the student, in algebra, who finally factored the polynomial on his own. A whole new level of understanding of liberty and freedom takes place within the veteran. Millions of men and women from all socio-economic and professional backgrounds have worn the military uniform and served on active duty. Most of them have a story on a par with mine. To all men and women who’ve worn the uniform, I say a big “Thank You”! To Wake Forest University, I appreciate this occasion and the invitation you extended to me. Thank you and may God continue to bless our country.
Delivered by Mike Mabe at Wake Forest University in room 410 of Benson University Center on 11/11/2009 at 11:00.