‘I am truly humbled’

'I am truly humbled'
Gerald Tracy is a veteran, having completed two stints of service with the South Dakota National Guard in Iraq.

The first bit of business he completed, however, when addressing the Veterans Day audience at the W.H. Over Museum Nov. 11, was to express his thanks.

His gratitude goes out to every soldier, past and present, their families and to every household that has gold or blue stars hanging in their windows.

"I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here today," Tracy said. "In the presence of so many who have sacrificed so much, I am truly humbled."

God has blessed the United States, he said, with men and women who have chosen to answer the country's calling when they are needed the most.

"It is also today that we must remember our new generation of veterans � those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that are half-way around the world," Tracy said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with these men and women, that they fight to keep our world safe and free. Like you, they fight for the cause of freedom and the promise of peace."

Tracy, a member of the 147th Field Artillery of the South Dakota National Guard, was activated in December 2003 to serve in Iraq. He returned home last February.

"In reflection I can be honest in saying that there is no group of people that I hold in higher regard than our veterans," he said.

That comes in part, perhaps, from the many generations of the Tracy family that have served in the armed forces over the years.

"Some of it may be due to the fact that I now understand," Tracy said. "I understand the sacrifice. I understand the pride that comes along with such a distinguished classification."

He said he had never sought out to determine exactly who our veterans are. "They look like you, they look like me, they look like our sons and daughters, our grandpas and grandmas," Tracy said. "I never sought out to determine who a veteran was until last November when I came home on leave."

When the wheels of his plane hit the runway of the airport in Dallas, TX, the pilot announced, "Boys, welcome home," over the intercom. Everyone cheered with joy.

"It was the first time I had been on American soil in 11 months," he said. "It was an incredible feeling."

Those feelings of excitement were heightened when the soldiers were welcomed by a crowd of over 100 well-wishers at the terminal.

"They didn't know us, and we didn't know them," Tracy said. "They were there to show their support, to thank us, but most of all, to welcome us home. It was absolutely wonderful. It personifies what the United States of America is truly about."

In the middle of the celebration, as complete strangers came up to Tracy just to shake his hand or give him pat on the shoulder, he began to realize that what he was experiencing may not have been unique to everyone there.

"How many of the people had gone through this experience before? How many knew exactly what I was feeling at that point in time?

"How many of them had had this experience before? How many were my fellow brothers and sisters in arms?" he asked.

Tracy was able to spend two wonderful weeks at home with his family, including his parents, his wife, and his son, who was celebrating his first birthday.

Then the day arrived when he had to return to Iraq.

He was in a state of emotional disarray, Tracy said, when he got settled in his seat on the plane at the Sioux Falls airport. He began to cry.

An older man, dressed in a suit and tie, sat in the seat next to Tracy.

Shortly after the plane left Sioux Falls, the man introduced himself, and told Tracy that everything would be okay.

"I remember the day, even though it was years ago, when I had to leave my wife," the older gentleman said. "It was the single hardest day of my life. But, you need to know and to remember because of those that have sacrificed, our families are safe."

"I really needed someone," Tracy said as he thanked the man before the two parted company when their plane landed in Minneapolis. "I know. I was there once," the gentleman said. "But just remember this. Because someday you'll be in my seat, and some young soldier will need your help, and it will be your turn to give it."

"There is no greater thing than veterans serving veterans," Tracy said.

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