Nine years ago, on December 7th, I stood on Mount Moriah in Deadwood, South Dakota with two well creased pieces of paper in my hand. I was feeling nervous and honored to be counted among a small dignified group of veterans gathered for a Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony. We had ridden together in a trolley to the cemetery where many other veterans had been buried after shuffling off their earthly coils, and we circled around a flagpole for a series of speeches. A Pear Harbor survivor, among the last living in the Black Hills, was slated to speak first. He was a tall, distinguished older gentleman in a gray coat and spectacles; probably a grandfather or maybe even a great-grandfather by then. I imagined that when he signed up for military service he was only a teenager like I had been when I joined the National Guard. I couldn’t even comprehend what he had been through during the attack at Pearl Harbor.
When he stepped up to the microphone and began to speak, the memories of the day, so many decades before, came flooding back and tears ran down his cheeks. So overwhelmed by his emotions, he became unable to speak, and the MC requested that I start the ceremony. As I stepped forward, I reached out and gave the man a big hug. I commented to the crowd that we should all spread love and support on this day by hugging a veteran. During my deployment I saw nothing like what this man had experienced, but I tried to honor him and his comrades with a speech on which I had spent long, tedious hours of refection.
Pearl Harbor Speech from 7 December 2004
It is a tremendous honor to be here with you today. I am truly grateful to be among so many real life heroes! I was asked to speak about my perspective on deployment in Iraq as well as my feelings about being a veteran. There are endless comments I could make about my experience, so I spent several days pondering the best message to share with you before putting pen to paper.
To me, being a foreign war veteran is a very special privilege, one I never expected when I enlisted. Veterans are part of an exclusive group because what we go through in combat situations is often so beyond comprehension to those who have never seen it that we can only connect in certain ways to our brethren. Veterans bear scars that run deeper than the surface, emotional and psychological wounds that sometimes never go away. We all come back from combat changed in profound ways and the reality is that the changes are not always for the better. We put our bodies, minds and spirits through hell because it is expected of us, and when the mission is complete we are commended for our actions. We act bashful and gruff because we are not comfortable with being given praise for what we do. We separate ourselves from the rest of the human race by becoming finely tuned, hyper-vigilant machines of progress, and we accomplish nearly impossible missions by ignoring our screaming instincts. The tempering we go through makes us tougher than ever before, yet our innermost identities remain very vulnerable. We can change ourselves drastically from the rest of humanity through our service, but essentially we are still the same because we are all Americans.
As veterans we have given of ourselves and given up a lot to protect our loved ones and give them a life of peace and freedom. We’ve done our best. You veterans in the audience need never doubt what you’ve done for your country. You have done your best! I am proud to be associated with you all and I am proud to have served my country as you all have done over the decades.