Jerry Barnes Veterans Day Speech
want to thank Mrs. Fricke for asking me to be the guest speaker today and thank
the teams for helping to organize such a great assembly, it has been a long time
since we had one.
I wasn't much older than you when I saw President Kennedy on a grainy black and white tv set in the high school auditorium speaking at his inaugural address to the nation. He mentioned 'to not ask what your country
can do for you but what you can do for your country.'
That was the guidance that most in my generation followed, joining the armed forces , the peace corps , or working for the government.
I went through the ROTC program in college and was commissioned a 2nd
Lt. in the US Army in 1967. I served two years in Germany and a year in
Vietnam was a turning point in our history, it changed our country ,
some in good ways, some that were not.
Wars have always caused dissension in our country-we have the freedom to
protest. There have been protests to all the wars our country has been
in-from the Revolutionary war to today's war in Iraq, something that we
need to remember today. That is why it is so important for us to know our
history so we don't repeat the mistakes of the past.
My wife had returned to college while I was in Vietnam, but due to the
campus unrest at the time over the war, did not mention to anyone that she
was the wife of a soldier serving in Vietnam. I was not very happy to hear
It is fine to protest a war-that is one of our rights as Americans but
you should not be against the individual soldier, he joined to fight for
his country and for freedom, but does not choose the wars or engagements.
Soldiers who came home from Vietnam were harassed and hassled by people who
protested the war, thus most, including me, did not talk about it for 30
After Vietnam, patriotism fell out of favor in the United States and it
became a country of people who did not believe in serving their country but
were only interested in what they could get -a very selfish attitude
centered on themselves and our country suffered because of this 'me first'
attitude. It took Sept. 11 to change that. It is a tragedy that all those
people had to die to wake up the citizens of America to what they had and
what could be lost.
We enjoy freedom here in the United States and that is why so many
people come here, but many that are already here do not appreciate their
freedoms and rights that we have . I hope the new immigrants that we have
will embrace our country, it's traditions and find it a country to fight
for and join the service and become citizens.
As many veterans can tell you, 'freedom is not free'. You have to give
back to your country and serve it to feel good about yourself. You can't
just sit there and take and take and give nothing back. It has been said
that 'war is hell' and that is certainly true. Soldiers are killed and
maimed physically and mentally-sometimes long after. Some Vietnam vets I
know are just now being hit by stress syndrome 30 years after the war.
Wars are not started by soldiers-politicians do that, but they need to
have the resolve to stick it out through all the controversy that revolves
around war and end it with a victory. The soldiers who gave up their lives
and bodies for the cause are owed a proper finish to the war or their lives
were wasted in vain.
Some people, politicians and newscasters have been comparing the war in
Iraq with Vietnam and it is not. In Vietnam you had two large countries,
China and Russia, supplying the North Vietnamese with supplies-you do not
have that in Iraq. The Vietnamese were fighting a civil war over a
political system and to re-unite the country. In Iraq you have thugs
fighting to get back in power so they can continue terrorizing the citizens
who are now happy to be free.
I am proud of my service in the Army, I followed my grandfather and
father who also served in the military and proud that my sons chose to
follow me in that family tradition of serving their country also.
Because I had been in Vietnam my wife was not very happy about John,
our oldest son going into the National Guard, but once she saw how much
being in the service developed his character through the experience she
was all for Eric, our youngest son, joining up also. The old recruiting
slogan the Army used to have 'TO BE ALL YOU CAN BE' is certainly true.
I never felt more alive than when I was in Vietnam doing the best job
I could to make sure my convoys delivered their supplies to the troops.
Being on the side of the road in 'Ambush Alley', all alone in the silence,
trying to get a broken down truck moving again was quite an experience. As
was being awoken in the night to a mortar and rocket attack.
If you do not serve your country you will not be aware of what your
capabilities are, thus you never will be the person you could have been. So
when you see a soldier, you know that they are doing more than they ever
thought possible and you should at least respect that.
A funny thing has developed lately, people who were never in Vietnam are
now claiming that they were there, even though they did not serve and
indeed tried their best to avoid serving.
We call them 'WANNA BE'S', so don't be one of them follow your fellow
patriotic Americans and serve your country as so many have before you.
One of the more moving experiences in my life was visiting the W.W.II
cemeteries in Europe-those rows and rows of thousands of crosses extending
as far as the eye can see really brings home to you how many have given
their lives for our freedom. If you have seen the movie 'Saving Private
Ryan' you have experienced some of this, you can see an actual military
cemetery at Ft McPherson right here in Nebraska.
When they came back from war veterans seldom mentioned their experiences
and I was one of them. We had fought for a life of freedom and then put war
behind us to get on with living. The soldier's families never knew what
they did in the war and that was a shame. That is why Mr. Sankey's
interviews that he and his classes are doing are so important to the
veteran, his family and our nation. You can see those at the Heartland
I have gotten involved with Vietnam veteran groups and individuals since
the internet got going. I had not thought of Vietnam or talked to anyone
about it for 30 years, now I have been meeting fellow veterans on the
internet and this summer went to a reunion of Vietnam Gun Truckers at Ft
Eustis, VA. It was a celebration of our survival and a new book a friend
of mine had written about the gun trucks that protected our convoys.
Meeting all the guys was great and sharing our experiences and stories
was very good for all involved, many had not talked about it at all and it
was a good release.
I now do art work from the photos I took in Vietnam and just recently
donated most of it to the Transportation Museum at Ft Eustis, Virginia-the
home of the Transportation Corps. You can see it on display there.
Locally, we have a group of veterans, who through their interest in
restoring military vehicles have built that into the great museum that we
have out on the interstate, the Heartland Military Museum. They have some
of their vehicles here today for you to look at after school and will be in
the parade today, I urge you to look at them and take your family out to
the parade and the museum.
America has been lucky to not have a war on it's soil since the civil
war, but since 9-11 that has all changed and the War on Terrorism began.
That is making veterans of us all.