My son said, “Mom, I’m surprised you’re reading that book,” when I mentioned to him some of the details from Lone Survivor, which recounts the story of four men from SEAL Team Ten on a Special Reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan, Operation Red Wings, an attempt to take out Mohammad Ismail. I’m not sure what led me to pick up the book a few years ago as it is not generally the kind I read. But I do like stories of real people, and this one was riveting.
Three out of the four Navy Seals were killed and the fourth, Marcus Luttrell, was left unconscious with a broken back and numerous fractures and shrapnel wounds. He was ultimately rescued, and amazingly he returned to active duty in Ramadi during Operation Iraqi Freedom as a member of SEAL Team Five. After he had his knees blown out and suffered a fractured spine again, he was discharged from the Navy.
Both the account of the intense training for SEALS and the bravery of the men on the mission were astounding to me. Luttrell’s grueling recovery process, both physically and mentally, when he returned home and then deciding to return to active duty makes me wonder how there can be such strength of character.
Luttrell and his wife Melanie were recently in the news, carrying on a mission of a different sort. A fellow Veteran, Lt. Bill Fly, went through the death of his wife three months before his house was demolished by Hurricane Harvey. The 99-year old World War II veteran had hoped to spend his 100th birthday in his home. The Luttrells were able to raise nearly $90,000 in a couple days and launch a project to restore his home. Volunteers in his Texas community came together and completed the project just in time for his 100th birthday on Nov. 1. The story showed the generosity of the human spirit and the value placed on veterans.
At 100 years old, Fly is one of about 558,000 Americans still alive who served in World War II. That may seem like a big number, but consider there were 16 million Americans who served in that war. They are what Tom Brokaw called the “Greatest Generation” in his book of the same name. They survived the Great Depression and went on to serve our country and preserve our freedom.
As we are losing that generation one by one every day, in recent years it seems people have begun to take note of them, and with that bring more attention to all our veterans. Those serving in World War II came home to celebration, but contrast that with those who had to sneak off the plane in civilian clothes when they returned from Vietnam because of the protests against the war. And now, year after year, veterans come home from the never-ending “war on terror,” returning to face their memories, some of them not doing so well.
Comparing veterans to non-veterans, the suicide rate is 22 percent higher for veterans. There are about 20 veteran suicides a day, something for which Veteran’s Administration Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin is deeply concerned and is committed to see change through support and education.
I am glad our communities of Hill City and Keystone honored veterans in such a big way, at the school, the Hill City Senior Center and the Keystone Community Center. However we feel about war, and I would venture to say none of us like it, it is the right thing to honor those who served. This Thanksgiving, when we sit down to enjoy a meal with family and friends, I hope that one of the things for which we give thanks, is our country’s military men and women.