Ahead of Veterans Day, I had the pleasure to speak with four extraordinary veterans about their experience in the military. I also renewed my understanding of the historical significance and evolution of Veterans Day in our country, which was quite fascinating.
Veterans Day was initially known as Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I. The ceasefire between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. One year later, after the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11th as Armistice Day.
This important day was initially intended to honor only the veterans of World War I.
However, after World War II and Korea, it became apparent that the world had not stayed free of conflict as earlier administrations had hoped. In 1954, the holiday was officially changed to Veterans Day in honor of all US military veterans. Over the years, various state changes were made to the celebration until 1975, when President Gerald Ford signed a new law that allowed the observation of Veterans Day as a national holiday on November 11th, beginning in 1978.
As we gather this year to enjoy the parades, runs, and ceremonies, we also pause to express gratitude and respect for those who have served our nation and to delve into the unique perspective of the veterans themselves. Beyond the celebrations lies a narrative of sacrifice, duty, and commitment to a cause greater than oneself.
I sat down with four veterans at the American Legion in Fernandina Beach and was captivated by their stories. They all served when they were young and received specific training that prepared them for the respective roles required for their service. They have been given the gift of time, allowing them to reflect on those experiences that helped shape their future. During our interview, I asked them to share some of the lessons they learned in the military and how serving has shaped their lives. This is what they had to say.
U.S Army 1967 to 1969
E-5 Officer Candidate School Enrollee
Retired Insurance Agency Owner
“ I volunteered for the draft after graduating from college, which allowed me the opportunity to attend Officers Candidate School (OCS) in Fort Benning, Georgia.” Unfortunately, I suffered a severe knee injury the day I was to begin my OCS training, causing me to reevaluate my future in the military.”
“I was always patriotic, maybe even more now, but I learned the importance of teamwork. Team members must be dependable and fulfill their duties to ensure the safety and success of the entire unit. These skills were valuable to me later in my career and my success as a coach.”
“I was glad to serve, and my only regret was that I didn’t go to Vietnam along with the others I trained with.”
James Shobe, US Army, 1968 to 1971.
Staff Sergeant, 82nd Airborne
Vietnam 1969 -1970
Commendations: Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Army Commendation Medal for valor in the Republic of Vietnam on 1-28-1970
Retired Cathodic Engineer for the Natural Gas Industry
“ I grew up in a military family and understood the discipline it took to serve. Still, I always felt it was my duty to serve my country. I also wanted to go to college and saw the military as an opportunity for higher education.”
“I went into the Army at eighteen years old, and I was fortunate to be stationed with Lieutenant Kline, who soon served as a role model and mentor during my tour in Vietnam. He taught me to be more adaptable and flexible, which helped me respond quickly to change. When we gathered for strategy meetings in the evenings, he would pull out the homemade bread his wife sent him from home, along with something to drink. This simple gesture provided a sense of calm amidst the chaos of war.”
“It was not easy to live through a war, but serving in the military taught me the value of life. I learned quickly about the importance of brotherhood and how quickly it can be taken away. I also learned the importance of teamwork and commitment, which served me well later in my life and career.”
U.S. Air Force, 1971 to 1975
E-5 Special Actions - Europe
Retired Corporate Sales and Marketing
“My family has a history of serving in the military. My uncle, an Air Force pilot, lost his life in Vietnam in 1966. In my third year of college, I felt a “calling to serve.” Even though I had a college deferment, I left school and volunteered for the Air Force and Vietnam. After basic training and Technical School, I was sent to the United States Air Force in Europe instead of Vietnam.”
“ I joined the Air Force to contribute to something meaningful and more significant than myself. The service gave me a sense of purpose within my squadron and unit. Duty, Honor, Country--we rarely said these words but lived and felt them daily. We also believed and knew that freedom is not free; it’s earned.”
“I learned many life lessons, such as discipline, respect, organizational skills, and teamwork. Captain O’Neil was a mentor who helped me understand these valuable life lessons, and I will always be grateful for his leadership. These skills have served me well in my career, and I am proud to be a United States Air Force Veteran.”
United States Air Force 1983 to 1986
Retired from the FBI
“ I was only eighteen when I enlisted in the Air Force, and I hoped the service would help me find a direction in my life. I knew I wanted to attend college, but with limited resources, I decided that the military was my best path to higher education.”
“ In the first year of service, I was fortunate to meet Sergeant David Burgin, who quickly became my mentor. He must have sensed that I needed direction, and he helped me navigate the system and taught me many life lessons. In 2020, I called him to let him know how I was doing and how he impacted my life. He was grateful for the call, which I’m glad I made and will not forget.”
“The life lessons I learned in the Air Force were discipline, structure, and teamwork. These skills gave me the maturity that helped me prepare for college and set the stage for the rest of my life.”
The military service for each of these veterans was very different, and we could only get a glimpse of their vast experiences. Despite their differences, several common threads ran through each of their stories. These four and many of our veterans decided to serve out of a deep sense of duty and a need to contribute to something larger than themselves. On this Veterans Day, let us stand united in honoring the courage and commitment of those who served.