Ralph Harder. PHOTO COURTESY JEREMY HARDER

The heart of it

Veterans Day should be a day of reflection

Presidents, generals and journalists have long sought to pen the right words – thoughts denoting respect and thankfulness of members of the armed forces coupled with a recognition of the brutal reality of war. Films have sought to provide a glimpse of war. Dr. Carlye Luft, who received a Purple Heart during her service as a combat military police officer with the Army National Guard noted the prevalent romanticizing of war in popular films. Soldiers are often portrayed as always having unparalleled patriotism. The reality is that soldiers have many reasons for signing on the dotted line and working for the United States Government. Some come from broken homes and seek an opportunity to create a kind of family. Some sign-on for the educational benefits.

“Some are patriotic and want to kick ass and fight in war,” she said. “Not everybody signs up for fighting a war. Some people sign up for keeping the peace. I didn't sign up to fight a war. I signed up knowing there was a possibility of fighting the war. [I signed up] to have a family, responsibility, to serve – one of the biggest reasons is to serve people and support people, not just domestically but foreign as well.” Others from the World War II and Vietnam eras were drafted.

For Luft, she left active duty at 21 years old. Now 37, she is just now beginning to struggle through the scars of war. “It takes time to come to terms – the process of dealing with trauma,” she said. “You get emotional and physical scars and sometimes it takes years or an entire lifetime to come to terms with it and heal.”

Veteran’s Day should be a time of reflection, not only for those who served or for those who have family that served, but everyone.

“I would just say take a pause – take a pause from your vacation plans or shopping or whatever it is that benefits you on that day and be grateful for what you have. Be grateful that there are people out there that have a heart of service,” she said.

Bob Hope wrote it well from his near lifetime of entertaining troops:

“I saw your sons and your husbands, your brothers and your sweethearts. I saw how they worked, played, fought, and lived. I saw some of them die. I saw more courage, more good humor in the face of discomfort, more love in an era of hate, and more devotion to duty than could exist under tyranny.”

Why did you fight?

It was because we had to. Everybody at our age was drafted. I joined the Navy in 1955 and served until 1963. It was something that [my family] had been doing since World War II. My aunts and uncles had joined. It was part of the ritual of being an American – defending democracy.” – Chuck Hinz

Why did you serve and what was service like for you?

“Why did I do it all? I guess it’s just a sense of honor. Pretty much keeping democracy right, so we have one. I got lucky and was stationed over in Germany. I went in in June of ‘71 and luckily my last name starts with an “A”. Out of 47 people in my class, two stayed in Fort Polk, five of us went to Germany and everybody below that went to Vietnam. Just a sense of pride and service to the community. That’s what it was all about to begin with – taking care of family, plus it was family tradition.” – Kenny “Cuz” Alley, who was in the 1st Armored Division of the U.S. Army.

What are your thoughts about Veterans Day?

“Veteran’s Day is a day to honor all those folks that served and made the sacrifice for our democracy and our ability to vote, which we just did.” – Jim Hinz, a Son of the American Legion What would you like to say about Veterans Day? “I was proud to serve my country and don’t need a flag flying out of the window of my pickup to prove it to anybody – as long as I know it,” Jerry Pape, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War.

You joined the Sons of the American Legion to honor your grandfather. What do you admire most about him?

“I think what makes me most proud of my grandfather and his service to our country is his humbleness. Although he rarely discussed the war to me as a child, it wasn't until I asked my father to interview him for our annual salute to the 10th mountain division here in Big Sky did I see the dedication he naturally gave in fortitude. During the interview he mentioned many times about being lucky. And although battle might be looked at as lucky in regards of life and death, he also spoke of respect – respect he had for the German soldiers. Never once did he speak poorly of them. Instead in a humble way he related his experience to protecting the freedoms of Americans and people around the world. His respect for the enemy was a true feeling about having compassion for those involved in the tragedy of war. To this day he has showed me the importance to fight the battle for others and that even though you may have an enemy, the bottom line is to find compassion in all people. We all wake up with a little suitcase of issues we carry around throughout the day. You never really know the true foundation of someone else's battles but to have compassion for all people allows you to see them as human. He said once that "they (Germans and American soldiers) were nice guys just caught in a bad situation ". We should take that – especially today – as a force to move forward and work together in this world. And to always look out for your neighbor regardless of their affiliation or beliefs.” – Sons of the American Legion member Jeremy Harder about his grandfather Ralph Harder, a light machine gunner in the 86th Division, Company M 10th Mountain Ski Corp

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