GALLIPOLIS — “We must ask ourselves as a nation, ‘are we serving veterans even half as well as they have served us?’ As we honor our 23 million living veterans, from the greatest generation to the latest generation, let us never forget this debt that is owed.”
This was the message of this year’s Veterans Day parade marshal and guest speaker Michael Michalski who, as a veteran, spoke on behalf of his fellow men and women who have worn a United States military uniform, and, as a veterans’ advocate, spoke to his fellow citizens who must repay the debt that is owed to the nation’s veterans.
Prior to Michalski’s heartfelt speech to a small crowd gathered near the Doughboy Monument in the Gallipolis City Park, Keith Jeffers, executive director of the Gallia County Veterans Service Office, spoke briefly about the duty that the veterans service commission has each year to hold the parade and subsequent Veterans Day program on the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month — even if that day is a Sunday.
Jeffers, who read a brief letter that was sent to all area churches concerning the Veterans Day program, stated that he had recently been approached about being anti-religious for holding the event this Sunday, something that he confirmed was never the case.
“There was never a war that was stopped because of a Sunday. Many a mother lost a son on a Sunday,” Jeffers said to applause. “We apologize that it has to be on a Sunday, but it was the eleventh day, the eleventh month, the eleventh hour that the armistice was signed.”
Jeffers who had the honor of being master of ceremonies during the event on Sunday morning also introduced the guest speaker.
Michalski, who originally hales from Mansfield, Ohio, entered the U.S. Marine Corps in 1965 and served in the far east with the 179th Battalion, 3rd Marine Division for four years in active service and, subsequently, completed two years of inactive service. He later served as the Ohio State Commander of AMVETS in 2000 and currently serves as the Outreach Coordinator at the Ohio Veterans Home in Georgetown, Ohio.
During his speech, Michalski spoke about the national debt — not the accumulation of debt incurred by the central government — but the debt all citizens owe to the men and women who have served their country throughout the nation’s history.
“If you Google the term ‘national debt,’ you are quickly going to find and receive search results for 28.7 million websites. Most deal with the very serious issues of government over spending and the accumulation of over two centuries of federal deficits. Yet, very few bring up the biggest national debt of the them all — that which America owes to her veterans,” he said.
As an example of this very real debt that is owed by the country to its veterans, Michalski relayed the story of Medal of Honor recipient and Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer, who, while disobeying orders rushed into heavy enemy fire to rescue four missing U.S. service members who were pinned down in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.
Heavily outnumbered, Meyer rescued 36 U.S. and Afghan troops in his first four attempts to reach the trapped men.
On their fifth attempt, Meyer and his team broke through the insurgents and, while taking fire, found that their four comrades had been killed. Meyer then carried their bodies to safety.
Two of Meyer’s fellow Marines also later received the Navy Cross, the service’s second-highest award for valor, for their actions that day.
“As he received his well-deserved Medal of Honor, Sgt. Meyer requested one thing, that his fallen colleagues be remembered: 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton, and Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrooke. We salute you,” Michalski said while stating that all the men and women who have lost their lives for their country must be saluted for their service.
“We also honor the more than one million American men and women who have given their lives for their county since our nation’s founding,” he said. “Our debt to these heroes can never be repaid but our gratitude and respect must last forever. Our gratitude and respect must last forever.”
While quoting historian Stephan Ambrose, Michalski commented on the wars fought by the nation’s military and the need that the country has always had for its veterans who endure willingly no matter what is asked.
“It is not in the nature of America’s warriors to complain. Warriors endure. Warriors make due with less. Warriors finish the job no matter how hard, no matter what is asked, but warriors need advocates,” he said. “It is up to all Americans to serve veterans, their families and our communities. Veterans need each other, but, you know what, more importantly than that, our country needs our veterans.”
As he continued in the vein of advocacy for the nation’s veterans, Michalski answered the question of what those wishing to show their support can do to express their appreciation.
“You can show your support just as you are today,” he told the crowd. “You can show your support by hiring a veteran into your workplace, by visiting a VA hospital or by donating to a veterans’ program, but you can also, in another way, show your support simply by saying, ‘thank you’ to a veteran — the next one you meet. Try it. ‘Thank you, thank you for your service.’”
The guest speaker also made reference to a 1979 book by author Tom Wolfe entitled, “The Right Stuff.” While the work discusses the first American astronauts to enter space, Michalski stated that the title of the book is fitting for any person who has served their nation.
“Anyone who has worn a United States Military uniform has the right stuff,” he said. “Remember that the next time you see a homeless person on the street, a man in a wheelchair or a difficult co-worker who may be suffering from PTSD.”
In his closing, Michalski discussed the importance of Veterans Day. According to Michalski, Veterans Day is a holiday that may not be as celebrated or as recognized by Americans as Memorial Day or Independence Day, but it is a holiday that serves as way to appreciate those who have given individuals the right to celebrate their freedom each Fourth of July.
“This day, Veterans Day, serves a very important purpose. It is the day we recognize not just those who have given their lives, but all those who have worn a uniform of service. This day, above all, is an opportunity to celebrate the choice one makes to serve their country,” Michalski said. “For some it meant the world-wide conflict of World War II, or a lifetime of peacekeeping missions or the tense standoff of the Cold War. Others found themselves in the jungles of Vietnam or Korea, Panama, and other conflicts that we have asked our military to serve over the years, and, of course, we cannot forget today. For many, service means multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan on active duty or as reservists and by guard members who sacrifice twice when give up their civilian jobs to serve their country. Through their blood, their service and their sacrifice veterans have given us freedom, security and the greatest nation on earth. It is impossible, absolutely impossible, to put a price on that.
“Let’s use this opportunity now and on Veterans Day in the years to come to celebrate service to our nation, to demonstrate the appreciation we have of our military and to inspire future generations to dedicate themselves in the name of the many who have come before them. As Thomas Jefferson said, ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.’ Today, we give thanks to live in a country where citizens from every generation willingly and courageously raised their hands to stand watch.”