Editor’s note: The Veterans Day poem, excerpted below, was inspired by two WWII veterans the author knew.

He was just an 18-year-old kid who was asked to be a man, do so many things that not many could understand, go off to war and fight in a foreign land; for a country he so loved — he was honored to take a stand.

It had been some 70 years since he’d returned from a war — where our freedom was so valiantly earned, now in a Veterans Home he lives out his final years, sometimes his memories — those memories — turn into tears.

Sometimes he plays checkers to help from getting bored; it’s so hard to hide the memories — those memories he has stored.

Veterans Day was coming and he was ask to play a part, ride in the local parade – maybe wear his Purple Heart.

The old veteran’s mind wandered as he took his place upon the float; he thought back to when he had boarded that naval boat headed off to a foreign soil — a place that he’d never seen — a nightmare about to unfold into a lifelong dream.

They’d also ask him to speak at the Legion Hall; they wanted him to talk of his adventures and how he’d stood so tall, show off his medals, his badges, souvenirs and all.

... As the old vet took the podium all those questions were darting through his head. “I’ve never spoken to a group before,” the nervous old soldier said. “I’ve never even considered myself a hero. I’m just a tired, old weathered veteran, you know. ”

“I guess I could answer your questions best with some questions of my own. I don’t mean to sound unkind — I just think that this be known. It’s not about what I did; it’s about my buddies that didn’t come back — what they gave so we could be here today; it’s not about a plaque.

“When you wake up every morning — do you thank the Lord each day? Are you appreciative for the roof over your head — a place for you to stay, or the car you’re able to drive to work — to perform at your vocation and see your kids board the bus for school to get an education.

... “Are you thankful we have the choice to choose our countries leaders; trust in our education system and have faith in our competent teachers; be able to pick up the evening newspaper and read of current events; designate your property line without prejudice by merely putting up a fence.

“So for these numerous reasons, I choose not to talk about myself. It’s not about me or the medals that I keep upon a shelf. It’s about all of these many freedoms we take for granted every day — freedoms that were earned by my comrades — for this their lives they gave.

... “So on this Veterans Day, thank a soldier but also remember those that died. It’s because of all those heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice — that our freedom can never be denied.”

Gary Blackmore is a Vietnam veteran who has lived in Columbia since 1955. He volunteers with the Missouri Veterans History Project and Central Missouri Honor Flight. He also serves as a mentor for the Veterans Treatment Court Program.

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