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By Todd Marver
Rick Harris was the guest speaker during the Nashville Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday, May 29. He enlisted in the Army from 1975-1978 as a military police officer. Harris grew up during the Vietnam War in a military family stationed at Scott Air Force Base.
Harris said his home in Mascoutah was directly into the flight pattern that flew over night and day transporting wounded soldiers in need of medical attention at the hospital located on the base. He said he and his siblings would often see many of these wounded soldiers at the same hospital during their own doctor visits.
“On a few occasions, my mother and father would invite a few servicemen including some from the hospital to our home providing them some resemblance of a family Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. Our family welcomed into our home these young brave men who were not much older than your high school graduates. I cannot pretend to understand or appreciate what these young men were going through during this most stressful time in their lives,” he said.
Harris said in 1973 when the POWs (prisoners of war) were coming back to the United States, many of them had to stop over at Scott Air Force Base. He said members of the Mascoutah Veteran of Foreign Wars and the American Legion took it upon themselves to gather light bed sheets and take them to a local baseball field to create a gigantic message that read, ‘Welcome Home, POWs.’
“These returning POWs must have had large smiles on their faces as they viewed the message of love from their airplane windows. We stood with so many others in the cold outdoors greeting these POWs as they disembarked from the airplanes. A few days to rest, these soldiers would soon return to their loved ones who themselves had been prisoners of war waiting for their sons, brothers, fathers or husbands to come home. The acts of kindness shown by my parents, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion have had a lifelong impact on me,” he said.
Harris said ingrained in his heart is a deep appreciation for all those who have served or are currently serving in the military. He said each year they hold high the important day of Memorial Day to express gratitude for the soldiers who died on the battlefield or from wounds acquired on the battlefield.
“We also recognize those who have served and recently have gone home to their Lord Savior. I’m grateful to all these individuals brave enough to have answered the call to defend our nation, Constitution and our standard of living,” he said.
Harris said he wanted to add to the conversation what he called “a heartbreaking topic that is overlooked”: talking about suicide among military service personnel whether active or non-active. He said he believes there is an obligation to reach out to military personnel.
“We need to periodically ask them how they’re doing. For some, their wounds are not visible to the naked eye. The struggles they face daily cut deep into their hearts and into the fabrics of their soul whether it be feeling isolated away from loved ones, being a witness to the tragedies of war, simply transitioning from life in uniform to a civilian life or attempting to rekindle relationships with family and old friends,” he said.
Harris said for some veterans, it is difficult for them to address their fear and anxiety, anger management or overcoming guilt and fear. He said suicide is not a solution and they cannot afford to allow another soldier to believe there is only one long term permanent solution to his or her temporary problem.
“If you ever learn of a veteran who is struggling whether it be financially or emotionally, please contact your local VFW or American Legion. You can also reach out to the United Service Organization. They should be able to provide you service personnel with some life saving assistance. If the service personnel you have in mind does not have a church, kindly suggest to this individual to locate a church that has an active congregation that will embrace him or her without prejudice. To my fellow veterans, if you’re struggling and bearing a heavy burden in your heart or soul that troubles you so, develop a core sense of belief nothing can shake,” he said.
Harris said the young boy who grew up in Mascoutah during the Vietnam War stood before the crowd at the Memorial Day Ceremony thinking of all the soldiers who crossed his path in the 1960s and 1970s at Scott Air Force Base.
“He wants to thank them all for their service and their sacrifice they made for this great nation. That same young boy wants to believe and continues to pray they all made it home safely and are living a long happy prosperous life,” he said.