For most Americans, the highs and lows of life in the armed services exist only in big-budget Hollywood movies.
But for Veterans, the milestones of service are forever etched in memory, reverberating with every kind of emotion – exhilaration, humor, agony.
I listened in Monday morning as a few local veterans shared their experiences over coffee at the Dairy Center for the Arts, and what I heard surprised me.
Some of the stories were unsettling, like the time an apparently dead Japanese soldier bayonetted World War II veteran Bob Sherman in the leg as he walked by the man.
The stories were also instructive. CU Army ROTC instructor Stuart Lawrence served during the Vietnam War, first in the Air Force as an F4 bomb loader and later in the Army as a helicopter pilot. He would go on to become an Army officer and serve until retiring in 2000.
Seven years into his retirement, Mr. Lawrence was asked and agreed to serve his country again – this time in Afghanistan. The then-and-now contrasts between the two conflicts were fascinating.
“It was not the same Army I left,” he said. “Soldiers could only go as far as their computer batteries would last them. They had no idea how to read maps or use a compass. I insisted that my people use common sense, not computers.”
Lew Roman, a Navy sailor who provided support to river patrol boats on the Mekong River during the Vietnam War, talked about the critical role support people play. This launched a group conversation about the massive and complicated work of getting food or dry socks or clean water to service members in conflicts.
The conversation took several turns, many echoing with laughter. Joe Lutz, a US Navy veteran of the Korean War, talked about how as a 17-year-old he played hooky one day with friends who were curious about “what was going on down at the Navy recruiter’s office.” The fateful day would eventually lead Mr. Lutz to basic training in Bainbridge, Maryland where “the US Navy turned a boy into a sailor.”
Today, Mr. Lutz is a volunteer and board member of the Broomfield Veterans Memorial Museum, where service members from every conflict beginning with the Civil War are honored. The museum is where the Coffee and Conversation series originated and continues.
About a year ago, members of the Dairy Center’s board of directors and staff were inspired to bring together veterans groups to collaborate on a larger event to honor veterans. The result is Veterans Speak, a two week recognition of Veterans Day that seeks to engage veterans and the public in a wide variety of presentations, performances, discussions, are, movies and more. Collaborators include the Broomfield Veterans Memorial Museum, CU Boulder’s Office of Veteran Services and the CU Student Veterans Association.
Over the next two weeks you can attend any of the many events – including Coffee and Conversation – and I highly recommend that you do. See the whole schedule here.
Veterans Speak is a unique opportunity for veterans to share their stories and perspectives and engage the public in the issues veterans encounter. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for civilians to gain a much deeper perspective on those who protect American freedom.