‘Thank you for your service’

‘Thank you for your service’
Ray Brecheisen/The Morning Sun

Morning Sun Staff Writer

Former Sen. Robert Dole may have been the keynote speaker for the
dedication of the Pittsburg State University Veterans Memorial
Amphitheater dedication Monday, but he made it clear he was there
more as a veteran of World War II than as a politician.

Dole’s remarks highlighted a “grand celebration of freedom,” said
Dr. James AuBuchon, PSU vice president for university advancement
and one of those who spearheaded the memorial’s creation.

The celebration was grand indeed, featuring “Rolling Thunder” from
several area motorcycle clubs, military aircraft flyovers, a 21-gun
artillery salute, and all the pomp and glory of two military bands.

AuBuchon estimated that more than 4,000 people – twice his original
expectation – showed up for the afternoon celebration.

Following a welcome and introductions by AuBuchon, John Devitt,
a Vietnam combat veteran, placed the “seat for the missing,” a
symbolic empty chair draped with the black and white POW/MIA flag,
showing that all veterans were being recognized in the ceremony.

In his remarks, Dole often returned to that theme. The senator said
the PSU memorial, and the national World War II memorial he helped
dedicate in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, are important not just for
those who died in combat, but for all those who served in the armed
forces – and for many who didn’t.

“We couldn’t all wear the uniform,” he said. “Someone had to stay
home and preach and teach and keep the shops open, farm the crops.”

Dole praised the families of military veterans as well, especially
those who lost their loved ones in the service of our nation.

He pointed out that young people today often don’t have the sense
of a nation pulling together that characterized World War II, when
everybody faced rationing and grew victory gardens. Compared to the
current war in Iraq, he said, the average American doesn’t do much
sacrificing in support of the military.

He urged the audience to remember veterans not just on Memorial Day,
pointing out that there are hundreds of veterans languishing in nursing
homes and veterans hospitals who would love a visit, and would love
to hear the five simple words, “Thank you for your service.”

“That’s what today is all about,” he said.

In a rare moment, Dole talked about his own war experiences. A second
lieutenant, he was trying to rescue his radio officer when shrapnel
ripped into his arm and back, nearly killing him. He was rescued by
a fellow soldier, but spent four years struggling to recover from
his wounds.

That moment changed his life and led him to politics, where he has
achieved much in a different kind of service.

He said his doctor had lost a brother in WW II, and treated him -and
his mother’s varicose veins – at no charge because he felt he owed it
to the nation. He also pointed out that the largest single donation
to the WW II memorial in Washington was from an Armenian-American
with no military experience who felt he should pay back the country
for his freedoms.

“He said, ‘I’m not a veteran, I wasn’t totally poor when I came to this
country, but if it hadn’t been for events in WW II, I wouldn’t have
been able to send anything.’ He felt he owed it to America,” Dole said.

The senator said the goal of success is to be able to look back and
say, “I made a difference,” and then to reach down the ladder and
help someone else to the top.

He also honored the Vietnam veterans, present in a large group to
celebrate the presence at PSU of the half scale replica of the Vietnam
Wall in Washington, D.C.

Dole said the veterans weren’t always honored when they returned home
to a country opposed to the war, and he talked about veterans of Korea,
“the forgotten war.”

Dr. C.J. Chris Johnson, retired PSU biology professor and WW II
veteran, gave the veteran’s response to Dole’s speech, repeating
Dole’s assertion that Memorial Day honors not just those veterans
who survive, but those who fell on foreign shores or sleep beneath
the waves, those who worked in factories at home, and the military
personnel behind the lines who supported the troops on the front.

“Today’s dedication is about veterans and about our freedom,” he said.
“Without that additional support, we could not celebrate by conducting
Memorial Day dedications today or any other day,” he said.

The ceremony also included brief remarks from PSU President Tom Bryant,
and a special message from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, presented by David
Taylor, the chairman of the Governor’s Military Advisory Board.

She wrote, “Our world is a dangerous place today,” and Sebelius
pointed out that more than 4,000 Kansans are serving today in Iraq
and Afghanistan, fighting for freedom.

Bryant pointed out the thing that makes the PSU memorial unique is
that it is not a memorial to just one war, battle or branch of service.

“It is so much more than that,” he said. “Today we honor the spirit
of duty and sacrifice that these veterans represent.”

Following a ribbon cutting that officially opened the memorial,
veterans were invited to enter the memorial first. Vietnam vets entered
from the west rampart, where they were guided by Girl Scouts to the
replica Wall. All other veterans entered at the east rampart and
were assisted by area Boy Scouts, who led them through the various
features of the amphitheater.

The ceremony ended with a performance of “Taps” and a musical postlude
by the 312th Army Band.

Staff Writer Olive L. Sullivan may be reached at (620) 231-2600,
Ext. 134, or by e-mail at [email protected]