MURRAY — It would seem that the best time for a first-person account of what it means to serve one’s country would be the Fourth of July.
That is exactly what retired United States Army Capt. David Wilson gave Thursday morning at the annual re-dedication ceremony for the Calloway County Veterans Memorial in Murray’s Chestnut Park. In front of about 100 people who chose to forgo rest and awaken early to start their day, Wilson, who just recently became the commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6291/Herman Eddie Roberts Jr. Post of Murray, told of his experience during Operation Desert Storm in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
He told a story of two sides.
“All who join, as well as those who stay behind to worry, endure separation and hardship,” he said, going back to his days with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “I took command of a unit that was on mission status with an Iraq deployment force. In this case, I was with the 82nd Airborne, whose job was to be prepared to go anywhere in the world, to be prepared to fight in 24 hours or less. I received the call to go to work at midnight on Aug. 6 (1989), a Monday, having rotated onto mission status that previous Friday. I had been briefed because of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and Saddam Hussein (former Iraqi dictator) that there was a good chance they would deploy a brigade to the Middle East somewhere as a show of force.
“So, as I gathered myself to step onto the post, I stopped to see my two daughters, who were 3 and 2 at the time, and wondered if I’d ever see them again, or if they would go to sleep several hours earlier with their world in order, only to wake up the next day with only a fleeting memory of a father they would never know. And for eight months, I and my family existed with that void.”
Wilson survived that deployment and was able to come home to that family. Thursday, he reminded the audience that this was not always the case.
“So before we close our ceremony this morning with the honor guard (firing a 21-volley rifle salute) and the playing of ‘Taps,’ I invite you to reflect on, and give thanks for, those who choose to run towards the sound of gunfire, for those who went into harm’s way and for those who stayed home and prayed for our return,” he said. “And finally, I ask you to remember those who never came back or came back broken.
“Remember, all gave some, but some gave all.”
Calloway County Sheriff Sam Steger followed Wilson at the speaker’s podium and talked of his experiences the past few years on his family’s farmland that is actually on the U.S. Army Base at Fort Campbell in Trigg and Christian counties, as well as Montgomery County, Tennessee. He said for two weeks at a time in the summer, he and his family have harvested wheat in one field, while one field over, they would watch in awe as Fort Campbell personnel would train.
“At the drop of a hat, those men and women can set up what amounts to an entire city, a functioning military operation, in no time,” Steger said. “We can start in the morning, and have a blank field beside us. By the time we leave in the evening, they have set up a military camp and their doing operations and paratrooping. It’s really something to see and it makes me feel how proud I am to be from this country and how those men and women are protecting us.”
Steger began his speech by discussing the true meaning of the day, independence, which is what the United States of America declared from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. He did remind the audience that the actual separation from England and its leader, King George III, came two days earlier.
“It was on July 4 that we actually set forth the declaration and had it written out and approved and that’s why we celebrate Independence Day the way we do,” he said, mentioning the usual Fourth of July activities for Americans — fireworks, barbecues, going to the lake, etc. He returned to the issue at hand.
“As I was preparing for this morning, one thing I wanted to do was find out the definition of ‘independence’ and how it relates to how men and women in the military do their jobs and how we got to be where we are today, the greatest country … the greatest nation … in the world. So what does it mean to me? Being independent means being out on your own, doing your own thing, not relying on anybody to take care of you, not having to depend on anyone or anything, which is what our country does.
“It is being strong and being able to survive without needing help from anybody, and that’s what we do here in the United States because of these men and women and what they do here in this great country. It takes a special person to do what they do. Not many people wake up and think, ‘I want to put myself in harm’s way,’ or ‘I want to go to another country so I can make sure that people in my country are safe or free.’ That’s what you have standing here today. They’ve served in many different wars, different combats and you and I should be thankful for that opportunity.” n