Thank you all for your kind welcome and thank you, Mr. Finegan and Evangeline Conley, for inviting me here at your fine facility to speak on my favorite holiday, Veterans Day. My respect, gratitude and appreciation to all soldiers, sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coastguardsmen here today of all ranks – Happy Veterans Day!
I also want to take this opportunity to thank the VA WNY Health System and their dedicated and professional staff in providing me and other veterans with 1st rate quality healthcare and a multitude of other veteran programs that have improved our lives. On behalf of all veterans, I want to say that we are grateful for your diligent and dedicated care.
My last thanks goes to my wife Noreen for putting up with an absentee father and husband on many a drill weekend. Noreen is the ultimate Army wife and did you know, a paid technical consultant for the hit new TV show “Army Wives” on the Lifetime Channel? Just kidding, but she could have been with the right agent.
I am blessed to be a veteran and especially fortunate to be born in Buffalo, New York, USA, in the year 1963. By the hard work of my parents, Michael and Doreen McGuire, I have had the opportunity to lead, by all measurable standards, what has been known as a “charmed life” – right down the street from this very institution, in Snyder, NY. We weren’t rich in the material sense, but we had everything we could ever want or need.
For 19 years, Main Street and Harlem Road was my world, my “Mayberry.”
Growing up there was, by all accounts – a sublime experience. Sheriff Andy Griffin and Floyd the barber were there too. My dad though, never lost an opportunity to remind me how my charmed life in Amherst came to be. Though dad never served in the military, he led by personal example and always paid homage to our veterans from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. During the holidays, you will find my dad passing out socks and other small items to vets. He has done this for over 30 years as a small but lasting tribute to a Buffalo family he knew well growing up. Eventually, my dad had to stop visiting this family. It was just too painful for him. You see my father looked just like the son of this proud family, the son that was killed in action in Europe.
My dad could no longer visit their home without the father and mother breaking down in tears. Like the Ken Burns documentary film, ‘The War”, the war, in some tragic way, effected and touched everyone, on every street.
Real sacrifices were made.
On a now more humorous note, I was always led to believe as a young kid that my dad was a Korean War vet. Surely all the most important heroes of my “charmed life” passed before me at every Memorial and Veteran’s Day parade down Main Street. Veterans were Gods! Not surprisingly, I played soldier every spare moment of my time on Roycroft Blvd, with its well groomed and treed “Island Park” along the length of the Blvd. Along with throngs of other neighborhood kids, the Island provided the perfect imaginary battlefield for infantry battle drills – fire and maneuver. I naturally took my dad’s elevated veteran status quite seriously. I often played the role of Army medic and patched up my dad’s wounded knee from my kit bag, complete with ACE bandages, and field dressings. I gave him my vitamins, pretending they were antibiotics, to ward off infections or other tropical diseases.
Dad even had an old deep scare on his knee from a football injury to offer up as proof of his courage in battle. Needless to say it was a very depressing day indeed when dad finally had to fess up and declare that he never served in the Korean War. I eventually got over it, but it just goes to show you how much love and admiration kids had then for veterans. They were giants.. amongst us mere mortals. I wonder today sometimes, in an age of entitlement and self-importance, that kids today still view and respect vets the same way. More on that later…
I am sure many of our older vets will note and remember that what we now celebrate as “Veterans Day” was once known as “Armistice Day” after the last shots were fired from WWI at the 11th hour – of the 11th Day – of the 11th month. The “Great War” was supposed to be the “war to end all wars” and with the formulation of the League of Nations, hope sprang eternal that war would never again be used to settle national scores or disputes. Modern warfare was just too horrible, destructive, too lethal, and too costly. When an isolationist America turned its back on foreign entanglements and rejected the League of Nations in the Roaring Twenties, tyranny and evil reared its ugly head on the European Continent again, just 19 years later.
War on a scale never seen in the history of the world was about to engulf America and once again, Americans would be drawn out of a peaceful slumber to decisively tip the balance of power for an allied victory. Our citizens would put down their shovels, pens and ploughs and again take up the rifle and march forward to help lead the world out of darkness and into the light.
During WWII, 16 Million Americans would serve, and many more civilians would be employed by the war department to secure final victory. This equates to roughly 14% of the total population of the US. A team effort – a nation with a singular focus and a unity of purpose. Almost overnight we became a great superpower, and with it, great global responsibilities. Sacrifices were made then, and they are still being made by our men and women in uniform to keep us safe.
Can you, however, imagine that type of total sacrifice – sacrifices made by our entire population, today? It is a valid question worth pondering. Can we live up to honor the gift of freedom that veterans of all our wars passed on to succeeding generations? Today, on many prominent universities and colleges, ROTC programs are banned from campuses. Signing up for selective service, a requirement by law, is being challenged by many school administrators who demonstrate their amnesia of American history and lack of intellect on how our democracy was created, won, and defended – all by the profession of arms. The protesters who disrupt the funerals of our fallen men and women also sadden me. Who are these people? While on public grounds, they may have the right to protest, but it shows a complete lack of respect for those servicemen and families who made the ultimate sacrifice, who guaranteed their right to peacefully assemble, protest, and address grievances in the first place? The irony is profound.
My mind keeps going back to the Movie “Saving Private Ryan” with the symbolic CPT Miller, the Army Ranger who was mortally wounded and whispering out his last words to Ryan while on the bridgehead they defended together somewhere on the Norman plain – to Private Ryan, who would survive the fight “Earn this.” EARN THIS! From a Private Ryan’s point of view, we all eventually earn the right to go home, to honor our fallen and maimed vets by living a life that is worth living, to be good citizens by actively participating in our democratic way of life. Regardless of your political ideology, failure to exercise your hard fought, hard won right to be heard, to vote, is, in this veteran’s eyes, a wasted opportunity to improve your representation, to better your life, and to start anew.
Did you not get a tingle of hope, a sensation of pride, a tear in your eye, watching the Iraqi and Afghan people voting for the very first time with joy on their faces and purple ink on their fingers? Did you not feel that you were about to share and take part, as free citizens, in something great, something worth fighting for?
Our veterans made that vision a reality. As a legacy of our proud military history, it’s a point of pride to rattle off freed cities and towns across the world in places like St. Mere-Eglise, Paris, Rome, Brussels, Manila, Seoul, Panama City, Baghdad, or Basra.
Today, even in Vietnam, in places like the I-Drang Valley, Khe Sahn, Whe, or the Mekong Delta – contested areas have been sown the seeds of freedom, which is undeniable. In Saigon, now Ho Chi Min City, American capitalism has been planted and is gaining ground over communism. Though some “dominoes”
are still standing in the far-east, communism was worn out in the sixties and seventies because our Vietnam veterans paid a horrible cost of 58,000 men, so that others, peoples they never knew, may have a chance at a better way a life. When the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989, I thought of our Vietnam era vets and hoped that they would see that particular watershed moment, as something they deserved credit for. They do. They paid the bill.
They were the battering rams that knocked down that Wall, so freedom could ring!
It is ironic, yet telling, that the first memory of my return home from Iraq was provided by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 77, whose honor guard, dressed in their green jungle fatigues, greeted us at Niagara Falls Air Force Base with our flag and a warm welcome home party that they themselves never had. The band played the “Star Spangled Banner” ; friends and family cheered. Balloons and decorations were everywhere in the hanger.
But veterans were taking care of veterans, that was what all the hoopla was about – and well. it does not get any better than that.. To get a handshake and a job well done from another vet, well, that’s the ultimate compliment.
It is not unimaginable that a great national sacrifice of great magnitude will be required of us again someday, as the world, through technology, becomes smaller, more volatile, and more fragile. Our enemies, regardless of White House occupants, have demonstrated their hatred of us and the ability to attack us at home with shocking and devastating effect.
When you ever feel your resolve weakening, please rewind the videotape – the images of 911 still haunt me . as good, decent, hardworking Americans went to work that beautiful fall day at the WTC. Few there would ever imagine that the last decision of their lives – would be made that day – the decision whether to burn to death, or jump to their death, from a 110 story building.
I met the senior FBI agent in NYC who set up the initial emergency response center. He escaped tower number two just minutes before it came crashing down and helped carry the lifeless body of Father Judge, the NYC Fire Department Chaplain, out of the building. In a speech to our anti-terrorism class at the Special Operations University last year, he said that sound of human bodies, our citizens, hitting the streets below is a sound that he will never get out of his mind. For several painful minutes after he said that, the only sounds in the auditorium were that of the runny noses of our proud military men and women trying to hide, and wipe, the sting of salty tears from their eyes.
I can only speak for myself, but I am sure the collective and resounding sentiment and silent prayers that filled the minds of those in attendance that day was – “Never Again! Not on my watch! If a great threat presents itself again, then please God, please give us the opportunity, the means, and the power to stop it!
When that bugle call does come again, will our citizens be ready and willing as our forefathers, at a minutes warning, to orderly assemble on the village green, with their rifles and bayonets cleaned and scoured, to face the enemy? Will we be ready to fight, as John Adams summoned … “for our lives, our homes, and our sacred honor?”
I say resoundingly yes, but yes for the time being. I am a bit concerned with our youngest Americans and the generation of entitlement, but I am awed, blown away, by our current crop of young soldiers, especially our citizen soldiers who set aside their families, their jobs and comforts of home to serve us in lands far away. To me, they are the new “greatest generation” of Americans. Many of them enlisted after 911 and knew full well of the dangers and risks ahead. They are all volunteers, and yet they still come to this day, from small towns and big cities alike, to serve.
Like WNY Medal of honor recipient Marine Corporal Jason Dunham of Scio, NY, this generation sees the big picture and they know what is at stake. They get it, and they too will “earn this.”
I am so proud and humbled to say that I served with men and women with “American” names like Charles Bush, Cynthia Mullen, Margarita Inez Casteneda, Thomas Stutz, John Gutowski, Mike Stanton, Benjamin Lis, Mitko Dintcheff, and Greggory Reinbold, who incidently, is deployed right now on his third tour of Iraq, the last two tours by his choice. He is my hero.
Collectively, they are my little Band of Brothers and sisters..
I also mourn the loss of my brothers in arms who were killed in Iraq- PFC Charles Bush of Buffalo, MAJ Greg Fester from Clarence, and LTC Terry Crowe of Grand Island. Terry’s loss was especially heartbreaking because he was the heart and soul of our Canisius College ROTC department. While on his two-week leave in May of 2005, we shared dinner with two other officers at Loughlan’s Restaurant on Tupper and Franklin Street. Terry timed his leave to watch the cadets he trained become lieutenants at their college graduation ceremony. Two weeks later, back in Iraq, in a northern town called Tal Afar, while on an operation – conducting a sweep with Iraqi Army troops he helped train, he was killed in an ambush. Later, the mayor of the town, a town now free of insurgents, wrote Terry’s dad, a retired Army colonel. The mayor said he was very sorry for his son’s loss, and said that only America could produce a soldier for freedom like LTC Terry Crowe.
Like our heroes past – PFC Charles DeGlopper of Grand Island or Marine Gunny SGT John Basilone or LTC Matt Urban of Buffalo, all Medal of Honor recipients, we honor our own WNY heroes, our friends, and our neighbors, with special pride.
In closing, I have a mission for you today….a mission for everyone blessed to be in this room of heroes today. Are you ready for a demanding mission? Are you up to the challenge?
No, you won’t have to take notes or memorize the military’s five-paragraph operations order format, I promise. Do you want to know why? Because you already know instinctively what the mission is – that I am about to ask all of you.
Your mission is the divine mission of America, one we have been working on now for over two hundred and thirty some short years now. Since 1863 and the Emancipation Proclamation, we ALL have been officially working on this mission, and if you know our history, our American soldiers of African decent have fought for some measure of Freedom since the American
I want all Veterans, their friends and their families, on this day, Veterans Day, to remember who you are, what you are made of, and what you represent to the rest of the country and to the world. You represent this great and grand experiment called America. America is the mission! America stands for freedom! You are America! You cannot think of one entity without the other. You represent these United States. It’s on your uniform! It is in your heart! You represent something that is greater than yourselves!
Your mission’s “coordinating instructions” are to continue to lead by example, and teach your kids and grandkids what is takes to be free and live by, and under, the rule of law and our CONSTITUTION. Teach them justice and fair play. Teach them that the pen is preferred and mightier than the sword. Teach them about hope, faith, and charity. Teach them to be vigilant and that their rights and privileges come at a great and often terrible price. Above all, teach them about love and to reach out to others in need. That’s what you want, and what Almighty God demands.
Lastly, my final thoughts for you today are to remember “America the beautiful.” Yes, we have serious issues to address, but America is beautiful and it is the land of the free and the home of the brave.
My several journeys and treks across America rings out and confirms, consecrates our story and mission on our fruited plains, our canyons and deserts, on our farms, over our mountains, through our lush green pastures, our valleys and meadows. Our rivers divide us – and yet we make them work for us and connect us – the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Rio Grande, the Allegheny, the mighty and powerful Niagara. America is AWESOME and it is beautiful. From sea to shining sea!
As I was leading a small convoy of HummVees with young soldiers back from our annual training this summer at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, we often had to pass slowly through many dozens of small towns and villages, taking summer road construction detours. To pass the time and keep everyone alert, we played a game to see how many people we could get to wave back at us, and we kept score to see which vehicle could get the most waves. It’s not important for you to know who won. It’s important for you to know that we did not just receive waves, but applause and thumbs up. We got smiles,
and shouts, and cheers, from kids, teenagers, parents, and grandparents!
No, I am not too worried our future. Its what we make of it. We just have to dream, just like Dr. Martin Luther King said and believed – “I have a dream,” and I know you do too.
Veterans, family and friends, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America!!