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Giving thanks, for those who serve

Dan Powers

by Patrick B. McGuigan
Executive Editor

In every generation, our country somehow finds men, and now women, willing to stand guard in the night. They face those who would hurt us.

Just before Veterans Day, I met Dan Powers, the son of Sgt. Eddy Powers. After his memorable talk at the state Capitol where I work, I interviewed Dan. This added another Veteran’s tale to the long list I’ve been blessed to hear through the years.

About 15 years ago, in a Bible Study class, I asked a question of Norman Vaughan, a World War II veteran of the Rainbow Division. It’s hard to remember what made him answer, because his family says Norm spoke rarely about that time in his life.

Norm was a Boy Scout when the war began in 1941. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, his scout troop was called up – mobilized into the military.

He lied about his age. When his Rainbow Division liberated a concentration camp more than three years later, Norm was still a teen-ager. That night as we pondered the Scriptues. he gave us an unforgettable description of the Jewish victims who staggered out of the camp to greet the American liberators.

In our group, we had been talking about Holocaust deniers, people who claim Adolf Hitler never led the murder of millions of Jews and others in Europe before and during the Second World War.

Norm said, “If I could have just 15 minutes with those people, I could convince them.” The old soldier added, with a bit of an edge, “If that wasn’t enough time, I could take them in a room and convince them some other way.”

Jeremiah Denton was a Navy aviator shot down over Vietnam who spent most of a decade in a communist prison camp. When I interviewed him in the 1980s, he described horrific torture, despair and the sense of loss that only was taken away in wake of a desperate prayer.

All those years after his nightmare, Denton told me that at Christmas he fondly pondered the image of the baby in a manger, surrounded by loving parents, poor working shepherds and barnyard animals.
Yet the strongest image of his Savior, for Denton, was his understanding of a beaten, bruised and cruicified body. His autobiography was entitled, “When Hell Was in Session.”

I tell the stories of such men, and of my father Bruce, who served honorably in the U.S. Navy during the Korean Era, because all of them except for Denton are gone now.

My wife Pam and I lived for many years near Washington, D.C. Childhood for each of our children was passed there. That’s why our middle son, Stefan, was back East attending college when terrorists struck our nation on September 11, 2001. The next morning, Stefan and several other young men were waiting when the Army recruiting office opened in Richmond.

In the Army, he was a combat medic for the Third Infantry Division and wound up at the “point of the spear” in the race to Baghdad.

His unit spent 36 hours in non-stop combat at a town on the Euphrates River. He went from being “medic” to “Doc.” That’s what guys in the Army call a medic after he saves a human life.

Doc McGuigan was there when an old Iraqi man came toward the American lines. A hard-ass sergeant stopped the soldiers from killing the old man, instinct and experience instructing him the fellow was a non-combatant.
Indeed, the Iraqi had a serious hand injury. The Americans were still wearing their outer gear as protection against possible use of chemical weapons by the enemy, but my son stripped off his protective gloves to assure best treatment of the injured civilian. The old man kept saying “Allah” as Stefan worked on him.
When finished, Doc McGuigan gave him a med-pac and did his best to explain when the Iraqi should take the pills. As he began to put his gear back on, the old man grabbed Stefan’s hand, pulled it to his lips, and kissed it. The hard-ass Sarge and the guys watching wept.

I never heard all the stories until much later, after I learned our son had become the first combat medic in the regular Army to get to the Baghdad Airport. Pam told me she knew with certainty he was in the midst of the worst battles, but I was uncertain until I heard it all from his comrades, and from him.

For a long time, it stunned me that we raised a hero. But we did. He came home, survived a terrible accident, married a lovely woman from Edmond, and from their union came a child. In his eyes, I see Stefan at age four.
This Veteran’s Day, Col. Kathy Scheirman, a doctor, and some of her friends in Democratic Party circles met at the Veterans monument on the Capitol grounds to call attention to what they consider shortcomings in the care and support of our military veterans.

For a long time, Scheirman was the “top doc” at the base in Germany where wounded soldiers from the war on terror transited on their way home. I don’t always agree with her, but she more than earned her right to an opinion.

Republicans whom I admire in the nation’s capital city are desperately grappling with debt and spending, trying to lead our nation toward a sustainable future. There are many sides to every argument, including fights about benefit structures for Veterans.

Republicans are hoping to find agreement with President Obama and other Democrats. They face a lot of tough choices, but that’s nothing new for Americans.

Like many others who did serve in the military, when I encounter a Veteran of any era or service, I try to find a way to thank them for their service. In their living faces, I imagine the faces that go with all those names at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. This year, I’ve been more reflective than normal about the people who step up, year after year, to stand in the breach.

We owe our Veterans, as much as we owe our grandchildren, a better economy and a sustainable future.
The gave us their best, and many gave their all. We owe them the same.

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