Current soldiers feel connected to veterans

Stories make Veterans Day more personal.

Megan Stroup / Graphic Designer

From its institution at the conclusion of "the war to end all wars," Veterans Day retains its significance as a day of recognition and remembrance for the nation and the members of our armed forces, past and present, at home and overseas.

Veteran's Day holds special significance for troops serving overseas in the Middle East.

Spc. Thomas Vega of the U.S. Army, who is from Saginaw, Mich., and has been stationed in Baghdad for about seven months, said the holiday reminds him of family that has served in previous wars.

"What comes to my mind when Veterans Day is celebrated is carrying on the traditions of my grandfather, a World War II vet, and my father, a Vietnam vet," Vega said in an e-mail. "Being here in the war zone has allowed me to celebrate my first Veterans Day as a vet. The sense of pride I get now being able to call myself a veteran like the men in my family is almost immeasurable."

I volunteered to come here not really knowing what to expect. I have served in almost every capacity I can think of here from combat mission to helping local kids repair playground equipment. I greatly appreciate the American people who think of us on Veterans Day and celebrate the success and sacrifice of all veterans."

Spc. Stephen Crofoot of the U.S. Army Reserve, who said he is from Boyers, Penn., has been stationed at Camp Victory in Iraq for about three months. Prior to that, he traveled around southern Baghdad beginning in March of this year. He had an uncle who served in the Gulf War.

Veteran's Day, he said, is a "time to mourn those that gave their all."

"First and foremost, my heart goes to the family members of my fallen brothers," he said in an e-mail. "We have lost soldiers out here, but they died for good cause. They died to ensure that Iraqis have the freedoms that we have. In addition, we are protecting those that are unable to defend themselves."

Columbia is home to many veterans, and some date their service to the early 20th century.

Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Emerson, who served for 23 years, is a veteran of World War II and the Korean War and now resides in Columbia. He said he is pleased that Veterans Day came into existence after being recognized as only Armistice Day until 1954.

The government began Armistice Day as an official holiday to celebrate the end of World War I in 1919. The acknowledgement of Armistice Day was extended to recognize the massive amounts of troops serving in World War II and in the Korean War in 1954, renaming the holiday Veterans Day.

"It's nice to be a vet and have someone remember you," Emerson said. "Veterans Day is a continuation of history, a day to honor those who did their thing in the name of their country. I'm pleased that there is one, and I would be disappointed if there wasn't one. It's the proper recognition."

Emerson entered the service as an aviation cadet in May 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He finished his training in June of 1943 as a naval aviator, or a carrier pilot. After his military service, Emerson spent 20 years teaching in the Columbia Public School System.

One of Emerson's sons served in the U.S. Air Force as a band commander. His oldest son was a Navy SEAL in Vietnam and was badly wounded. He received three Purple Hearts for his service.

"I got one, too," Emerson said.

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