Honoring Our Veterans

By Rod Hite, Veteran and IPLI Cohort #4 Mentor

Herveteranse we are again, another Friday afternoon. We’ve started the month of November with a beautiful Indiana day, the sun shining, temperatures up, and leaves still hanging on the trees. If you’re a true Hoosier you know the combines are hitting the field, the tobacco farmers have the barns full and hoping things come into case soon so they can start stripping. The dairy and beef farmers are glad fall calving should be wrapping up as we head into winter. We have a proud tradition of fall harvest with our farmers. Another proud Hoosier tradition is honoring our veterans.

As an educator I always take one personal day a year, Veteran’s Day. It was a combination of reasons. As a Marine, this is a huge weekend; November 10th is the Marine Corps birthday. Marines throughout the world will celebrate Nov. 10th by cutting the cake with the youngest and oldest Marine in attendance, and many will attend the Marine Corps Ball this coming weekend. The following day we will join our nation in celebrating our Veterans. Often these celebrations will be personal for many Marines, me being one. We call our brothers and sisters from around the world with which we served and thank them for their service. Service members around the world will take a stroll down memory lane this coming week. Remembering many of the great times we shared with our fellow veterans and a few memories we would rather forget. Veterans truly understand maintaining peace often is not peaceful in practice. The quote often used in the Marine Corps is, “We are men of war who pray for peace.”

It wasn’t until my own children entered school I actually attended a Veteran’s Day program as an educator. My wife reminded me my son would be in the gym watching the veterans as they were announced and walked to their seat on the gym floor. The first program was actually hard to sit through, as I sat next to a single WWII era veteran, a few Korean War era veterans, multiple Vietnam era veterans, fellow Desert Storm era veterans, and those who have served and are currently serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. Our veterans will always hold a special place in my heart.

I remember as a student having Mr. VanHoosier, Mr. Hansel, Mr. Hollitt, Mr. Thomas, and Mr. Brown as teachers and my principal in school. I can vividly remember the POW/MIA images on our TV stands, cafeteria menu signs, and other items built in our wood shop by Mr. Brown and used throughout the school. It wasn’t, however, until I returned home from my first deployment and took an extended leave to visit a friend at school that I realized why the POW/MIA was so important. I walked in the high school, in uniform, and there stood Mr. Brown in the lobby as he headed towards the office. His eyes looked my direction, and I could tell he was headed my way. I had drafting and wood shop with Mr. Brown, and our small-talk conversations throughout projects were mostly about his Camaro. I remember the look in his eye as he shook my hand and asked me what unit I was serving with at the time. We went on a walk down the long hall, past the cafeteria, the Ag shop, and into his classroom. He must have had prep that period or lunch because there were no students. Mr. Brown took me to a closet where he had some photos of his family members, and he reached in to take out a group photo of fellow Marines he had served with in Vietnam, some he pointed out didn’t return. He knew each of their names and I could see the memories pouring through him as he told the stories of years gone by.

He went on to tell me about his experience, which caught me off guard because I still thought of Mr. Brown as a teacher in class, but as I listened intently, he described the real situation of his service, not the one most students who had him in class had guessed. He was a Marine who now saw me as a brother and someone he knew had changed in my time away from home. Mr. Brown was a true Marine who served his country with pride. His dedication to his brothers and sisters was demonstrated through his craft in his years as a teacher. Many times, in ways I had never realized until that day. I came to realize just how little I knew of the world as I walked those halls as a student. I also realized just how lucky I was to grow up in a community where true Men of Honor played a role in my life in and out of school. Each of these men helped shape the young man I was growing into as our life paths crossed. The greatest thing about a small community is how many other great veterans walked our streets and worked our fields as they raised their families in our small community. The peace we all knew during my time as a child was indebted to their service. I also know what an honor it was to serve my country. Today, I’m forever indebted to the young men and women who have been serving our country for the past 13 years in combat and as a nation under attack for the past 15 years. Last year I received a personalized invitation to the Veterans Day service in my hometown school. For the first time since my senior year ,I returned home for the service. I took my personal day after attending morning services with my sons at their schools and raced home, two hours away, to walk in and see many of these same men who worked and served our country seated in the lobby waiting for the ceremony to start. I couldn’t help but be filled with pride to see the number of veterans who were in attendance. Watching high school students thank each of them for their service and seeing the look on their faces was rewarding enough for the time it took to return home.

I stood in the hall and looked down at Mr. Brown’s room at the far end of the hall and couldn’t help but think how I wish I could go down and say, “Semper Fi Marine!” [always faithful or always loyal], but unfortunately Mr. Brown has passed away. Before the veteran heroes of your childhood are gone, take a moment to thank them for their service and the peace you lived in as you grew up in your community. But also thank them for the sense of honor and service they helped instill in you as you grew into the leader you are today.

I now have two sons and I often wonder if they’ll find their way into the service one day. Time will tell, but not a day goes by that this now much older Marine doesn’t still pray for peace before their time comes to serve.

Have a fantastic weekend and a great school year!