By Frances Akridge
City Council Representative
Unless we’ve walked in their shoes- or their boots—we can’t imagine the depth of the sacrifice and dedication that it took for our neighbors to serve while on active duty. My appreciation for the depth of service by Veterans grew over time.
As a child, I recall worrying about my father having to check for a scorpion in his shoe every the morning during his tour of duty to Vietnam; as awful as that was for my 8 year old self to imagine about his absence, it wasn’t until much later I learned about more terrible threats to their own safety. As a teenager, when I was on base with my father and we paused for taps, I was grateful to be there with him and proud of how everyone stopped to salute the flag. As a college student, I briefly considered the ROTC program and realized that I’d never be a “morning person” and I wouldn’t last very long at all. Still, I admired the dedication of the students’ drills on the campus of Virginia Tech.
As an adult, I think about the hard work by my husband’s as a seaman in the Navy and as the ship’s swimmer, my father in-law serving in the Army and the Korean War, and my brother in law serving in the Air Force in Germany before the wall came down. Moving to Huntsville, I met quite a few retired Army helicopter pilots, a special ‘breed’. I appreciated getting to know more about my nearby neighbor Mr. E, my code name for him, who served as an Army Command Master Sergeant. Mr. E served in the Gulf War among other locations, including Germany and Honduras. He was always in the action, always alert, and sometimes sleep deprived. He says the horrors sneak up and “grab you” sometimes and the traumas are relived. It’s for that reason I also ask him “really, how are you doing”. Mr. E was able to adapt to civilian life after a long career. He continues his commitment to serve others since he retired in 2011 by mentoring youth from Global Ties Alabama, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and supporting his own niece as she studies at Calhoun Community College.
As he and so many others learn in the military, contributing to a mission “bigger than ourselves” is how we cope. The nightmares are not debilitating for him but they do come back. Other Veterans struggle and discover that civilian life a quagmire of uncertainty. Fortunately, the Vet Center, specializing in mental health and counseling, and Still Serving Veterans, specializing in job placement, work hand in hand with Veterans to improve their quality of life.
“Thank you for your service”. Let’s say it, and mean it, deeply, knowing that every one of the Veterans are worthy of our gratitude because there is no job too small for the mission of security.
To deepen our appreciation of Veterans, please consider visiting the Huntsville Museum of Art to see photography by Stacy Pearsall, herself a Veteran, from her Veterans Portraits Project.