In an era when patriotism sometimes seems like an endangered virtue in American life, Veterans Day events throughout the nation on Monday give cause for encouragement.
Bartow’s Fifth Annual Salute to Hometown Heroes focused on Wounded Warriors even as it recognized veterans whose service dates back to World War II.
The latter, most in their 80s and 90s, represented the senior end of the spectrum. At the other end of the generational expanse, cadets from Bartow High School’s Summerlin Academy presented the colors and served lunches to veterans up to three generations older than themselves.
Previous Bartow Veterans Day luncheons have focused on veterans of World War II — the members of Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation — and those who followed in their footsteps in Korea, Vietnam, as well as those in shorter conflicts.
As America’s longest war — in Iraq and Afghanistan — fades into history, another generation of service members, both men and women, joins the proud ranks of those who answered their nation’s call to arms.
This war, more than any other in America’s history, has been one of insurgency, in which enemy fighters typically do not wear uniforms, making them virtually indistinguishable from civilian non-combatants.
Artillery and other conventional battlefield ordnance employed against American forces has been largely replaced by roadside munitions, ranging from simple but deadly IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to more sophisticated weapons capable of blowing holes through up-armored tactical vehicles and releasing a deadly spray of shrapnel on their occupants.
It was such a device that destroyed a vehicle occupied by Catlin Mixson and five of his fellow soldiers, killing four immediately and a fifth who died after months in an Army hospital.
Only Mixson survived. He lost both legs and suffered other painful and disfiguring wounds.
He was chosen as keynote speaker for this year’s luncheon, representing thousands of other casualties who have become known in the War on Terror as Wounded Warriors.
Though he has every right to be bitter, like so many of his colleagues, he views his glass as half full, not half empty, his life as one of opportunity, not defeat.
Advances in battlefield medical care have vastly improved the chances of survival for soldiers who suffer wounds that would have been fatal in previous wars. Increasingly sophisticated prosthetic devices allow growing numbers of them to live a more normal life.
We are too quick to apply the term “heroes” to athletes and others who achieve some momentary feat that brings them fleeting glory.
America’s men and women who have placed their lives on the line in frozen forests at World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, in steamy jungles of Vietnam, in the insufferable heat of Asian deserts, and in practically every corner of the globe ... these are indeed America’s heroes.
They deserve the groundswell of respect that America’s latter day patriotism is fostering.
And to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, may God grant rest eternal to their souls.