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Veterans Day: A federal holiday in the U.S. observed annually on Nov. 11 for honoring military veterans. It coincides with other holidays that are celebrated in other countries marking the anniversary of the end of World War I. Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans while Memorial Day honors those who have died while in military service. – Wikipedia

They’re older now, graying veterans of the Vietnam War or other military service, but they still march with certainty and post the colors proudly at funerals, Independence Day parades and Memorial Day programs.

They’ll be there this Monday, Veterans Day, too. You can count on it.

Over the years, I’ve noted that newspapers regularly carry photos of Memorial Day parades, and last spring I saved one of those and kept it on my desk as a reminder of the sacrifice and service of our veterans.

I had another reason, too, because I knew the veterans in the photo. They are friends of mine, and because of that the photo had special meaning.

First, Bill Stallman and Bill Bailey. They took different routes to Vietnam but thankfully, both came home.

Stallman served in the U.S. Army and arrived in Vietnam in 1965, only four years after President John Kennedy sent 400 Green Berets to South Vietnam and approved the first covert operations against the Viet Cong.

After that, the escalation was steady and expansive, including Agent Orange spraying to kill vegetation cover for the Viet Cong. By 1965, President Johnson OK’d strategic bombing and the first American combat troops entered Vietnam.

Stallman was stationed in a small village. Its name escaped him when we visited last week, but one thing he recalled with clarity: “It was out in the middle of the jungle.”

He returned to the United States in 1966, a year before Bailey joined the Navy and saw duty in the Seabees on the other side of the world. In 1968, he too returned intact.

The photo on my desk also includes Dennis Gunderson, a farm kid and high school classmate of mine who served in the Navy. Another classmate of ours, Doug Feltman, who served his country in the Army National Guard, is also pictured, as is Mike Chilson, an Air Force veteran and longtime member of the color guard.

The faces familiar to me wouldn’t be known in most other communities across South Dakota but they all have their own veterans and will show their pride and respect on Monday. It might be a school program or a community event at the local auditorium. Veterans will be recognized and honored.

At a time when world events are dominated by conflict and violence, we are reminded again of the critical importance of our military.

Nov. 6, 2019