hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

November 1, 2012

A salute to our military veterans

Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — If I could, I’d honor every single military veteran who ever served this country in battle.

It wouldn’t matter which war — Japan, Germany, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq or Afghanistan. To me, one bloodshed or emotional scar is as bad as another.

These are my true heroes, not the baseball players earning megabuck salaries and the football elite catching million-dollar touchdowns.

Most of the ones I would salute are the anonymous and the unheralded who look for no ceremonial tributes — quiet heroes in a faceless society whose deeds are better left unsaid than undone.

As the fight in Afghanistan proceeds to a bitter end while another in Syria and Libya seems to be escalating, it’s time for all of us to pause and reflect upon all those putting their lives at risk for the well-being of this country.

It was staggering to see our consulate invaded in Libya and innocent victims put to death. We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude on this Veterans Day. It’s a time for not only those who wear a military uniform, but others who make the ultimate sacrifice.

As I look to Hollywood, I see military films being placed upon our viewing public. The real war is no play act. It’s a blood-and-guts war that can aim its target on my son or your daughter. When a soldier or Marine dies, I tend to take it very personally as an American. We all should.

It’s incumbent upon each and every one of us to pay homage. One way would be to fly the American flag from your home or business. Another is to attend a Veterans Day parade in your community.

In my city, people like American Legion guru John Kazarosian take no hiatus in organizing parades and getting the youth involved. It wasn’t enough for him to serve the Navy with dignity. Truth is, he and others are still serving the ranks, long after discharge.

The pity of it all is that not enough loyalists come out to watch a Veterans Day parade. Most people treat the holiday as a day to catch a few extra winks, enjoy a couple beers over the barbeque, and maybe wax the car. Only a dedicated few will come out to attend the ceremony.

I find it particularly troublesome to see public apathy at a time like this. On this Veterans Day, let us all take a moment to reflect.

Let us count our blessings to be living in a homeland where peace and security is a much better alternative than a car bomb being detonated in a Third World country.

Let us applaud the fact we can worship any faith to our heart’s content, vote for whom we please, raise our children in a relatively safe environment and give them the educational opportunities they richly deserve.

America owes much of her success to immigrants. Large countries as well as small have contributed their share in making this country a haven for the refugee. Our military veterans have preserved that allegiance with honor, dignity and extreme patriotism.

Often, we pay tribute to the men in our military. So here’s a vote of gratitude to the women who have served their time without fanfare. At a time when women were discouraged from enlisting, many from this city took the ultimate step.

This past Labor Day found me in Boston covering the Armenian Youth Federation Olympics for my ethnic press — a job I’ve handled for the past 42 years as a labor of love. That’s not the story.

Two men were seated at a table, enjoying the festivities, when a conversation ensued. One was from California, the other from nearby Springfield. Upon introducing themselves formally, they discovered a close tie with one another.

Seems both men served with the Army in Korea. Not only that, they were members of the same platoon at Fort Devens, stationed in the same barracks. They occupied the same bunk bed — one on top and the other below.

Now, here they were 60 years later inside a dance hall.

“I still have my draft card,’’ said one, pulling out his wallet.

“So do I,’’ said the other, also extracting his.

The cards were a bit worn around the edges but very much valid. In the midst of all the commotion, here were two octogenarians from the same military mold hugging. After being shipped to the front lines that year, they lost touch with one another until fate reunited them on this evening.

The next time you see a military veteran, shake their hand. Show them a little respect. Above all, thank them for the service they rendered.

Most of them probably wouldn’t want the recognition. But nobody deserves it more.

Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from the Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.