On Thursday, November 11, our nation will pay tribute to the men and women who have bravely served or currently serve in the United States Armed Forces. These individuals embody the very ideals our nation was founded on – upholding the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Today, our population includes nearly 19 million veterans, with 78% of them having served during wartime and 22% having served during peacetime.
During the Veterans Day Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, President George W. Bush described the significance of this day so accurately.
He said, “All who have served in this cause are liberators in the best tradition of America. Their actions have made our nation safer in a world full of new dangers. Their actions have also upheld the ideals of America's founding, which defines us still. Our nation values freedom – not just for ourselves, but for all. And because Americans are willing to serve and sacrifice for this cause, our nation remains the greatest force for good among all the nations on the Earth.”
We owe our freedom to those who have valiantly put their lives on the line and have fought for the good. Here are five veterans who made their mark on our nation.
Emlen Tunnell – Making strides in history, Emlen Tunnell became the first Black American to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the first to play for the New York Giants.
Prior to playing professional football, Tunnell served in the Coast Guard during and after World War II.
Although a broken neck had prevented him from being drafted by the Army and Navy, Tunnell was accepted by the Coast Guard, where he is credited with saving the lives of two shipmates in separate incidents.
Posthumously, Tunnell was awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal in 2011 from the Coast Guard.
Ruby Bradley – As one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history, Colonel Ruby Bradley is known as one of the “Angels in Fatigues.”
Bradley was stationed in the Philippines as an Army nurse during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed American defenses in the Philippines. Bradley was captured and held in an internment camp.
Along with her fellow nurses, Bradley cared for the sick, helping with over 200 surgeries and delivering 13 babies. Once the camp was liberated, Bradley took a few years to recover before returning to serve in the Korean War, where she would later be named chief nurse of the Eighth Army. Bradley received 34 medals and citations of bravery during her 30 years of service.
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. – The son of the Army’s first Black general, General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps by serving his country. A graduate of West Point, Davis had aspirations to be a pilot, but since there were no Black flying units at the time he became a second lieutenant in the infantry.
Years later, the Army formed a Black flying unit and wanted a West Point graduate to command the squadron – Davis fit the description. Davis became the first commander of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The Tuskegee Airmen have one of the most impressive fighting records of World War II, never losing a bomber on an escort mission. Davis went on to aid in the desegregation of the Air Force and became the first Black general in the Air Force.
He received many military decorations including the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Army Distinguished Service Medal and Silver Star.
Fred Smith – The founder of FedEx, Fred Smith, credits the leadership tenets he gleaned from the U.S. Marine Corps for helping him start his successful company.
Smith served two tours in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. During his years of service, he was a rifle platoon leader, company commander and a forward air controller. He earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Heart medals.
The leadership principles he learned are embedded in his company’s culture. Smith said, “Everything that went into FedEx that made the business what it is today relates to what I learned in the Marine Corps, and I've always been grateful for that education and for those I've served with.”
Lori Piestewa – As the first woman killed in the Iraq War and the first American Indian woman to die in combat in the U.S. Armed Forces, Lori Piestewa inspired many by her life. A single mother of two, Piestewa joined the Army to support her children and to pursue a college education.
During her deployment in Iraq, as a part of the 507th Army Maintenance Company, the crew ran into an ambush. Piestewa sustained a head injury and was admitted to a local hospital where she died.
She was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal and promoted from Private First Class to Specialist.
In honor of her life, Squaw Peak, a prominent mountain in Arizona, was renamed Piestewa Peak. Additionally, an education initiative for Hopi children, an annual motorcycle ride for fallen soldiers and the National Native American Games were all named in her honor.
When we read stories of the brave individuals who sacrificed everything for our country, we better understand the challenges many of these people face when returning home.
We are also reminded of the continual pursuit of freedom that our Founding Fathers inscribed in the Declaration of Independence. Freedom isn’t a once and done deal. It’s a continual process.
The conflicts our veterans have faced have not been easy. The sacrifices they made weren’t small. Their patriotism contributes to the common good in our nation and the world.
This Veterans Day, let’s take a moment to thank all of the individuals around us who have served or currently serve our great nation. If it weren’t for their valor, we wouldn’t be privileged with the freedom we have today.
Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the author of "Framework Leadership.'' Read Kent Ingle's Reports — More Here.
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