The American Legion’s Olin Bowen stands with an ‘honor and remember’ flag at Monday’s Veterans Day ceremony at the Kingsport Veterans Memorial. Photo by David Grace.
KINGSPORT — Capt. Jay Emberton, operations officer and military science instructor at East Tennessee State University, urged veterans on Monday to stop using “just” and “only” in describing their service to the country, and to continue to share their military stories with friends and family, and not just at the VFW or American Legion hall.
Emberton delivered the keynote speech at a Veterans Day observance at the Kingsport Veterans Memorial on Monday. American Legion Post 3 and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 979 hosted the event.
Veterans Day is an annual U.S. holiday honoring military veterans with ceremonies typically held at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — the official ending of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed the holiday in 1919 — then called Armistice Day — to honor the veterans of WWI. President Dwight Eisenhower expanded the holiday to include all veterans.
The weather cooperated on Monday with sunny skies and cool temperatures. Veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were all represented at the Kingsport event with several hundred people in attendance.
Emberton kicked off his speech by taking issue with the words “just” and “only” and how veterans should never use those words in describing their service.
“When I’m asked what I do in the military, my normal answer is, ‘I was just a truck driver,’ or ‘I’m only an intelligence officer,” Emberton said. “Mostly that’s okay. We’ve been taught from the first day of basic training not to think we’re anything too special. We’re part of a team, a unit and something bigger than any one of us.”
Using “just” and “only” comes from veterans comparing themselves to other, more heroic people such as Audie Murphy or Alvin York or to veterans with more combat experience or dangerous jobs, Emberton said.
“We all know someone who suffered worse than we did or had more deployments or had tougher or terrifying jobs than we had. What do we have to complain about,” Emberton said. “That’s where the trouble starts.”
Post traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder caused by a person being placed in an extremely stressful or traumatic situation. Of the two million veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, 30 percent under VA care are suffering from PTSD.
Gerald Cardwell, commander of American Legion Post 3 in Kingsport, told those in attendance on Monday that every day at least one member of the U.S. armed forces commits suicide.
“More soldiers are dying from suicide than are in Afghanistan,” Cardwell said. “My message to you is, be on the alert. If you’ve got a comrade that appears to be in trouble, find out about it. There is help. This is one epidemic that we need to take some action on.”
Emberton believes if veterans would stop describing themselves with “just” and “only” it would go a long way in helping them heal and share their stories.
“The men and women who struggle with inner turmoil from their experiences, the worst thing they can do is compare themselves to others and say, it was only one gun battle, only one rocket attack. ... Why am I messed up?” Emberton said. “When we can get our veterans of all ages ... to stop using ‘only’ and ‘just’ and accept that every story they have is unique to them, I believe it’ll go a long way in accepting their fears and bad dreams are normal and justified and nothing to be ashamed of.”
Lawrence Shoemaker, of Gray, served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was a prisoner of war for five months in Czechoslovakia. Shoemaker agreed with Emberton’s message.
“I’ve said it myself, that I’m just a has-been,” Shoemaker said.
Emberton concluded by urging friends and family to ask veterans about their stories.
“Each one of us veterans has had something interesting or cool or unique happen to us, whether we were in combat or not,” Emberton said. “You were not and are not “just” anything. You’re a veteran, you have a story to tell and we’ll all thank you for telling it.”
The hour-long observance included the presentation of colors, the singing of the national anthem and the reciting of the pledge of allegiance. As with previous observances, the VVA performed its missing man ceremony to remember the more than 83,000 Americans still missing from World War II to the present conflicts in the Middle East.
The observance concluded with a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”