By Robin Scott
On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day. The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated by parades, open houses, receptions and air shows. In Washington D.C., 10,000 troops of all branches of the military, cadets, and veterans marched passed President Truman. Armed Forces Day is celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May and its purpose is to honor Americans serving in the five services.
When honoring members of the military, a thought comes to mind: why serve? The reasons for entering the military are vast. The choice of branch of service may be based on much fewer criteria: “I served in the Navy because everyone in my family is Navy;” “I’m an Army brat, so of course I joined the Army;” or “I’ve always wanted to be a Marine.” Some service members knew from early childhood that they would someday enlist. One retired Marine who lied about his age and joined at age 16 in 1964 stated, “I grew up watching John Wayne military movies. All I wanted was to be like John Wayne. I lied about my age and got in. When it was discovered I was too young, I was forced to stay stateside. A month after I turned 18 my dream came true and I was sent to Vietnam. I just wanted to fight like John Wayne in the movies. It didn’t take long for me to learn that real war is not like the movies, and I discovered what true fear was. But I stayed in and even did a second tour in Vietnam. I retired after 20 years and those years were the best years of my life.”
It seems that every member of the military, no matter which branch, feels a stong sense of commeraderie for their fellow service members, and can’t imagine being a part of any other brach. An Army Sergeant stationed at Fort Hood stated, “I spent nine years in the Marine Corps. I loved it and I should never have left the service. I decided to go back in after being out for less than two years. I wasn’t able to rejoin the Marine Corps. I joined the Army. It took me two years just to adjust, because I missed the Marine Corps way of life so much. I’m still in the Army, but I guess in my heart, I’ll always be a Marine.”
A young Airman in the Air Force joined because she wanted to become a linguist. She left her hometown in Houston for bootcamp in San Antonio, then off to language school in California. She had taken languages in school but stated it didn’t prepare her for learning a foreign language in the Air Force. She noted, “It is very different to spend eight hours a day, five days a week, learning a language. That type of intense training changes a person, and it certainly makes or breaks people. My class finished with less than half of the people who began. It wasn’t because it was too hard to learn, it was because the instructors expected excellence, 100% mastery of the language. That has helped me in a way that’s hard to describe and prepared me for the duty stations that followed my training. I never doubted my ability to speak the language I had learned because I obtained confidence as well.”
Several families in Dalhart have learned to live with the absense of their beloved family members. One father commented, “My daughter is in the Coast Guard. I miss her terribly, but I’m so proud of her. She knew exactly what she wanted to do and did all that was required to get there. She’s grown as a person because of her service to our country.” Another sister stated, “My brother is in the Navy. I’m so scared for him, but I can’t imagine him doing anything else.”
Numerous Dalhart residents have served in the military. Their stories and experiences are as broad as the State of Texas. When asked why they served, their answers caused a welling of pride and reverence. “I was about to get drafted, so I joined the Marine Corps because I felt they were the best;” “I joined in peacetime and at a time when we women weren’t allowed in combat. I learned so much about life from my time in the service: how to take care of myself, how to take care of others and how to be self-motivated and give 100 percent to everything I do;” and “No other career offered me what the military could, and I truly did see the world.”
Whatever the reason for joining, and regardless of the branch of military serving in, servicemen and women seem to have a common characteristic: pride in their service to their country. Not everyone can join the service, not everyone wants to join the service. Those who don’t or can’t have an opportunity each year to say “thank you.” Thank you for serving - for being one of an elite small group of people that give up life with their families and their hometowns for a year or two and even longer. Take the time on May 16th to discover who in Dalhart deserves a nod of thanks.