Friday, November 16, 2007

US Army veteran and Damn Proud of It

I was a dumb kid, barely 18 years old, when I walked into the U.S. Army recuiter’s office and eagerly volunteered to serve my country.
I remember the sergeant’s incredulous face when I told him I wanted to fly helicopters.
“You know you’ll go to Vietnam, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir,” I told him without hesitation. “That’s why I’m here.”
Two weeks later I was doing pushups at 5 in the morning as a screaming drill sergeant made me beg for more.
“More pushups, Drill Sergeant! I love pushups, Drill Sergeant!”
Pushing my nose onto the sandy, hot soil in Fort Polk, Louisiana, was a far cry from looking at the instrument panel of a Huey helicopter, but it was a start, and even through the worst of it I was proud to be wearing the Army green.
I never made it through flight school because I flunked an eye exam during training.
I never made it to Vietnam, either, but the friends I lost in those God-forsaken jungles as well as those who made it home alive are my heroes.
I fought the war behind a desk, and everytime I came across a soldier wearing that yellow, red and green Vietnam Service Medal, I got goosebumps. I wondered what kind of hell they had been through and how they had managed to stay alive.
One time I saluted a soldier who had recently returned from Vietnam.
“Why are you saluting him?” a friend asked. “He’s not an officer.”
“He is to me,” I replied.
I ended up hating the war in Vietnam, and hating war in general, but I have always had the deepest respect and admiration for the brave men and women who serve.
They do what they are told, when they are told, and they do it very well. They put their lives on the line without question and in doing so allow people like me to say what I want, when I want.
That is a freedom I will never take for granted.
As this Veterans Day approaches, I salute every person who wears or who has ever worn a military uniform.
And yes, that’s me in the photo beside my name.
Kenneth H. Fortenberry.
U.S. Army veteran.
And damned proud of it

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