Vermillion once again had a splendid Veterans Day celebration, thanks to the planning of the local VFW, and the speaker at the program, Dr. Roy Mortinsen, and the beautiful music provided by Russell Stewart, a veteran of the first Gulf War.
Following the program, the VFW Auxiliary served cookies and refreshments to the large audience. While sipping on my cup of coffee, I began a conversation with one of the VFW members who served on the firing squad that marked the end of the program.
"Thanks," I told him, and I could tell at first that he wasn't thinking much further beyond the service he had provided that day.
"Thanks for serving our country," I added.
Soon, I came to learn of the huge difference this man and thousands of others made in the world because they chose to put their country's well-being first.
This man served in the Korean Conflict. So did my dad. Unlike my father, however, this local veteran was sent on a ship to Korea. My dad bounced through waters both calm and churning on his way to Europe.
"I decided to serve in the Navy," the man said. "I already had a brother in Korea who was in the Army, and half of the time, he was freezing, or putting up with other lousy weather. He suggested I might do a lot better serving on a ship."
I can't remember all of the details, but I believe the local veteran said he and a friend of his just decided one day to enlist, and soon they were experiencing the new adventures offered by military life.
Ironically, my conversation with this veteran comes at a time when North Korea is once again in the news.
It has managed to develop a nuclear weapon. Its people still live under the regime of a dictator, and at times, one wonders if the Korean Conflict was worth the American lives that were lost, and the time and dedication of men like veterans from Vermillion.
Last week a television news program showed an image of North and South Korea, taken at night by a weather satellite, I assume. You can tell exactly where the border between the two countries is. South Korea, with its major cities and industry, is aglow at night. North Korea is plunged in darkness, a stark land that, despite having nuclear capabilities, has people living in the stone age.
I was reminded of a speech given at USD by former Sen. Bob Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam War, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He said he has no problem putting the Korean War in its proper perspective.
It is important for Americans, he said, to look back and see what the conflict accomplished.
Kerry asked his audience to compare life north of the 38th parallel in Korea to life south of that boundary.
The 48 million people who live in South Korea generate $16,000 in per capita income, compared to $1,000 per capita income in North Korea.
South Korea has an infant mortality rate comparable to the United States. North Korea's infant mortality is comparable to what one would see in the worst living environments.
North Korea is an importer of food, Kerry said, and its people struggle just to make ends meet.
"All one has to do to understand what this war produced is look at what it produced both economically and in terms of political freedom for the 48 million of the Republic of Korea," he said.
Kerry's beliefs about the Korean War were confirmed several years ago, when he was moved to tears in the nation's Capitol by a speech given by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
"He said if were not for the brave men and women of the United States of America, if it were not for the 33,000 men who did not return from Korea, if it were not for the sacrifice of the all of you here this evening, his country would not be free," Kerry said.
I know many of our readers will have already celebrated Thanksgiving by the time they read this.
I just hope they remember to express their thanks
to our Korean War veterans.