Gen. Colin L. Powell has written an essay for Sunday's edition of Parade magazine. The essay follows:
Why we serve
By Gen. Colin L. Powell
I became an army lieutenant when I was 21, and more than five decades later, the people I knew in my early days -- from college ROTC and my first assignment -- I still know. I think of them as family. In every assignment since, I've found a new family, but each time it's also felt like an old family. And even though I've been retired from the military for 18 years, I've never left that family.
Over the years, Americans have chosen to serve for many reasons -- during the Revolutionary War, to create a nation; in World War II, to save humanity from destruction; at various times, to help pay for college. Still, no matter the motivation, once our men and women joined up, they've given their all for our country.
But GIs are driven by another allegiance that is just as fierce: to their buddies. During training, they learn to rely on each other for food, for security, for support. They know that they will live, and possibly die, together as a squad of five or nine. It's a form of bonding you can't find anywhere else.
Watch the Video: Six Vets, Six Wars
This bond goes beyond the troops. I heard about a young boy, an army brat. His family moved to a new community, and when he showed up at his new school, the teacher introduced him by saying, "It must be hard finding a new home every couple of years." He answered, "No, ma'am. We always have a home; we're just looking for a house to put it in."
I look forward to meeting young GIs on my visits to the Walter Reed
hospital. Some of them are horribly wounded -- but you know what? Many want to heal as quickly as possible just so they can go back and serve with their unit.
My closest friend during college was Tony Mavroudis. We lived two miles apart in Queens, and he was like a younger brother to me. We were street kids, and we ran around together -- we even destroyed each other's father's car when we were at City College! We were both in ROTC. I first went to Vietnam in 1962, and Tony followed a year or so later. When I returned to the States, I was moved to Fort Benning in Georgia, and Tony ended up there, too.
One day he suddenly volunteered to go back. I told him, "Tony, you don't have to do that. You'll be sent back soon enough." He said, "Yeah, but that's where I'm supposed to be."
So he left. On one of his jungle patrols, he was filmed by a TV crew for a special report on race and the army. He was asked, "What's the relationship between your soldiers, black and white?" And Tony answered like the New York street kid he was: "Hey man, same mud, same blood." He was talking about that sense of family.
A few days later, he was killed by a booby trap.
Tony's name is one of the 58,272 engraved on the Wall, the beautiful granite Vietnam War memorial in Washington, which I've visited countless times. There is magic in that wall. At no other battle monument are people so moved, stenciling names and leaving gifts like combat boots, uniforms, sonograms, even a motorcycle.
Establishing memorials is one way that Americans can repay the debt owed to the people who have died serving this country. But we also bear a similar obligation to the survivors of our nation's conflicts, our veterans.
What can you do? This week on Veterans Day, put out your flags, cheer the marchers at parades, and go to tributes. But when you wake up the next day, Nov. 12, remember that it's still Veterans Day for our veterans -- and it will be every day of their lives. So thank them. Talk to them. Invite them to schools so they can share their experiences and teach our children that we all must take care of each other, on the battlefield and in life.
You can also support one of the many organizations that assist former service members. Three months ago, in Little Rock, Ark., I visited St. Francis House, a shelter for veterans trying to reestablish their lives. Forty-six men are currently staying there while they work and save up for their own apartments. To find programs in your area, contact your local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, or the Disabled American Veterans.
Many people refer to the World War II generation as the greatest one, but we've had greatness in every single generation of Americans who have served. I know of none greater than the generation of GIs now fighting for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan and serving around the world. Someday soon,
they'll need us to fight for them.
Other items in Sunday's Parade
Parade magazine is included with Sunday's print edition of The Journal Gazette. Here's what else is featured this week:
- An unbreakable bond: In honor of 11-11-11, veterans of six different conflicts share their stories of courage and commitment.
- 11 ways to help veterans: Check out these tips for lending a hand to our 23 million veterans – or those still in uniform.
- Sunday with…Gary Sinise: The actor-activist discusses music, marriage and his work on behalf of U.S. armed forces.