Around 7% of Americans are veterans. Less than 1% of Americans currently serve in the military. Most people have no idea of what the military experience is about. As we approach Veterans’ Day, it might be helpful to give a few examples.

Most Americans live where they want, wear what they want, eat what they want and work where they want. Within certain limits, we are free to come and go.

Imagine a situation where you’re sent somewhere you don’t want and can’t leave. Most Marines have been cold, tired and hungry, in a place they did not choose. I believe most veterans at some point said to themselves, “How did I get here?”

I remember standing atop Rock Mountain during a Marine Reserve training exercise. It was midnight and pouring rain. Suddenly, a flash and a big boom on the hill to my right. Lightning struck the field operations radio there and 13 Marines.

The Company Commander was not breathing, so the Corpsman gave him CPR, picked him up on his shoulders, and ran down the hill with him. The 13 Marines were put on flat-bed trucks and admitted to Floyd General Hospital in Rome. No one died.

My experience was nothing compared with the guys I met last weekend at the Marine Corps Marathon and 10K in Washington, DC. I saw many in wheelchairs and on recumbent bikes who could not use their legs, or had no legs. One Marine helicopter pilot told me he was on the ground in his chopper during training in Jordan, when a friendly plane accidentally dropped a 500 lb. bomb on his helicopter. He was horribly burned and hospitalized three months. I saw one guy with one prosthetic leg walking with another in a wheelchair. They understand each other as most of us never will. One Marine told a story about his son, a Marine in Iraq. A member of the son’s unit got his foot blown off, so the Corpsman ran out to help him. The Corpsman got his foot blown off, too. Since they wear the same-sized shoes, and lost opposite feet, once a year they go out together and buy one pair of shoes, and each gets one shoe. These are a few examples of what it’s like in veterans’ shoes.

Dan Kirk, Captain, Marines, 1973-77



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