Veteran’s Day Speech
University of Wisconsin-River Falls
November 12, 2007
Dr. Dennis P. Cooper, Ph.D.
Professor and Cooperative Extension Specialist
Officer, USMC, 1969-71
Today, all Americans are called upon to honor and thank all the
men and women who have served, and are serving, our country on
active duty in the armed forces. We thank all veterans for their
sacrifices and their accomplishments in defending and preserving
the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees in law the
liberty, equality, and justice that are so dear to us.
We honor all our veterans, whether they are living or dead, or
whether they served in peace or in war. Many of us have watched
Ken Burns‟ recent documentary, The War, which chronicles the
stories of veterans of World War Two. Those veterans include my
father, my father-in-law, my uncles, and many of the men who I
knew as I was growing up. I was born right after WW2, and it
seemed that everybody‟s dad had served in the war.
Then there was Korea, and the Cold War, with its various crises –
Berlin, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example. Young men
were drafted into the Army and sent to Germany and Korea. The
preferred way to dodge the draft was to join one of the other
service branches. The Navy sent you to sea for six month cruises,
or to Japan, the Marines sent you to Okinawa, and the Air Force
sent you to North Dakota. Although this was not technically
wartime, no one knew when the next crisis would erupt, or when
nuclear holocaust would befall us, so those veterans had to be
ready to fight at a moment‟s notice.
The Vietnam War really got going right after I graduated from
high school. Of my graduating class of 250 students, 10 were
killed early in the Vietnam War. I enlisted in an officer program
while in college and got to Vietnam at the end of 1970. Both the
military draft and the Vietnam War ended in the early „70‟s.
Since then, the all-volunteer armed forces have seen action in
many places, including Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the
Balkans, the first Gulf War, Somalia, Haiti, and now, of course, in
Afghanistan and Iraq. All told, millions of veterans have served
during and after World War Two, and many are still living. Today
is the day that we thank them all.
Although they served at different times and places, during war and
peace, they all had this in common: they all paid a personal price
for the privilege of living in the United States, and they paid that
price for all Americans. First, they gave time – normally, two or
more years of their precious youth to this service. They gave up
their freedom for that period of time, enduring the regimentation
and almost total control over their lives by the military. They
willingly became an instrument of their country.
They struggled and sweated through their training in some of the
garden spots of the US, places like Parris Island and Ft. Benning
Many suffered extreme discomfort from the elements – deserts,
jungles, mountains, constant rain or oppressive heat. They endured
hunger and thirst and exhaustion. They endured and adapted when
mistakes were made. For example, at Peleliu in WW2, parched
Marines assaulted all day under a blistering sun, only to have their
water re-supply arrive fouled in dirty diesel fuel containers.
They endured malaria, trench foot, frostbite, snakebites, leeches,
mosquitoes, and fevers of unknown origin.
And for some, of course, there was combat, with all its dangers,
horrors, injuries, and death.
Whatever the crucible, in training, peacetime deployment, or war,
they sometimes had to push themselves to the limit of their
endurance, and beyond.
Not all veterans paid every price, or even saw combat, but all paid
some price, and were willing put their lives on the line for their
country. For this, we owe them our thanks.
And when they returned from their service, to their loved ones and
communities, to resume their civilian lives, they had changed.
They were different people. They were more mature, more
focused, more self-confident, perhaps sadder but wiser. This
happens, more or less, to all veterans because by the very act of
leaving home to join the military, they stepped out of their comfort
zone and adapted. They mingled with other people from all over
the country, of all races, colors, nationalities, and ethnicities, of all
stations in life, both high and low. You meet all kinds of people in
the service - people from New York City and rural Georgia, Texas,
Appalachia, Colorado, Baptists, Jews, Catholics, atheists, and the
occasional witch or wizard.
They learned to get along and live and work together, and
occasionally, to save each others‟ lives.
For example, my unit spent a month camped on a beach on the
island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. One day, while a group of Marines
were out swimming in deep water, an African-American Marine
started to drown, and was rescued by a white Marine. Although
there was a considerable amount of racial tension and animosity at
that time, this event seemed to bring our unit together. If America
is truly a melting pot, then the armed forces are where the stew is
brought to a boil. This was, and is, part of the veteran‟s
Then, they traveled to other stateside bases or overseas – Kuwait,
Bosnia, Kosovo, Liberia, Guam, the United Arab Emirates,
Colombia, and many other places. Although living on American
bases, they inevitably mingled with local people.
All these experiences and sacrifices change people to some degree.
We should recognize, understand, and respect this about veterans,
because they often will not feel comfortable telling their stories,
especially if they have been in combat. The experience is often a
combination of good and bad. As one of the veterans in the Ken
Burns documentary said, “The experience of WW2 was worth a
million dollars to me, but I wouldn‟t give you a nickel to do it over
I am told that we have about 150 veterans as students on campus.
You have heard of the recent death in Iraq of a UWRF alumna, Lt.
Tracy Alger, of New Auburn, WI. Lt. Alger‟s tragic death is a
poignant reminder that women have played an increasingly
important role in the military over the past 30 years, and now make
up a substantial portion of the veterans we seek to honor today.
And so, today, we honor and thank our veterans. We are grateful
for what they have done to protect our country and preserve our
Constitution. We recognize and appreciate the personal price
every one of them has paid, be it big or small, for the privilege of
being an American that all of us enjoy. We respect the effect that
military experience has had on them personally, that it has changed
them in some way. Most of all, we will strive never to take their
accomplishments and sacrifices for granted. Rather, we will
always keep gratitude and respect for our veterans alive in our