Veteran's Day Speech
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Veteran's Day Speech

Celebrating Veteran's Day, November 11, 2014

Below is the speech shared with the students and guests of Rappahannock County Public Schools during the annual Veteran’s Day program hosted by the Rappahannock County Band Boosters, Mr. Jason Guira, and Mr. Michael Tupper, RCHS principal.

The address was written and shared by Mr. John Lesinski, Rappahannock County School Board Chair.


Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak today on behalf of all veterans in our community. It’s an honor to be back in uniform and a pleasure that it still fits!

I don’t want to take your time this morning to tell you about my war stories: I guess I’m fortunate that I don’t have any. My 26 years of combined active and reserve service was primarily stateside, punctuated with a brief six-month stint on active duty during the Iraq War in 2003 where I served in the Pentagon. I am very proud of my service but I’m admittedly no John Wayne. Ironically, that’s the way it is with most veterans. Many of our contributions were off the battle field but often every bit as important.

What I would like to do is to take this time to recognize the veterans in our community, acknowledging them as public servants of the highest order, and suggesting how we can give back to them. I am following in some big footsteps here. The guest speaker at the inaugural veterans program at Rappahannock County High School was Carson Johnson, an airborne Ranger who jumped into France on D-Day as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and returned as a member of the 101st. He came home to Sperryville after World War II to raise a family and live a full life, complete with community involvement here in Rappahannock County. I am humbled to follow his lead here today and honored to serve on the school board with his wife Aileen where his legacy of service carries on.

Virginia has a proud legacy of veterans. Currently, one in ten residents are veterans and, at 837,000 prior service members, the Commonwealth is the fourth most veteran-populated state. We have added 260,000 veteran residents since 2001, more than any other state. 386,000 Virginia veterans have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have more female veterans in Virginia than any other state in the country.

Locally, we have many great veterans among us here in Rappahannock, ordinary men and women who once wore the uniform and answered the call of duty for their country. When they took the uniform off, many became leaders in business, education, and public office.

By way of example, your principal, Mike Tupper, was an Air Force communication specialist at Langley Air Force Base. The chairman of your Board of Supervisors, Roger Welch, was a Navy submariner who chased the Russians around the globe during the Cold War. One of your math instructors, Eric Doyle, served in the Marines for 21 years before launching a second career in education. Russ Collins, EMS chief with Washington Volunteer Fire and Rescue, served in the Coast Guard for 26 years and retired as a captain before running emergency calls throughout the county. And Butch Zindel, who heads up Rappahannock Real Estate Resources, won the Bronze Star fighting with the Army in Vietnam. This is but a small sample of the veterans in our community. We all served and continue to serve because being a military veteran has instilled a sense of community and service that extend well beyond our years in uniform. But these years add up.

As the sands of time drain through the hour glass, we continue to lose our WWII and Korean vets on a daily basis; Just as our father’s watched WWI and Spanish American veterans and our grandfathers watched Civil War veterans pass away. In the coming years we will be saying goodbye to our Vietnam vets, many who are now in their 60’s and even 70’s.

But, your generation will have a unique and pressing challenge.

The Global War on Terror accelerated after the horrific events of 9/11, resulting in protracted conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world, often against an enemy without a nation state or flag. These conflicts, when strung together, are now commonly referred to as “Our Longest War.”

Many men and women, barely older than you, answered the call and served in combat environments every bit as violent and mentally harmful as the pitched battles you and I have read about in our history books. I would put the heroic fighting in Fallujah and Ramadi and Hellmand Province on equal footing with Gettysburg, Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sahn.

And because modern medicine, triage and technology have gotten more sophisticated and successful over the generations, more and more of our severely wounded young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are surviving their traumatic experiences. Men and women who would have died on the battlefield in previous wars are now coming home and will be struggling with their challenges for at least another 50 years.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, known as “Soldiers Heart” in the Civil War, “Shell Shock” in WWI, “Combat Fatigue” in WWII and Korea, and “Post-Vietnam Syndrome” in that war, is driving depression and suicide on a large scale in our veteran community.


These veterans with physical injuries and PTSD will be part of your community for the rest of your lives. You, as future leaders and engaged citizens, will need to decide how to care and, yes, pay for the needs of these veterans for decades to come. We can already see society’s struggle in the recent stories surrounding our V.A. Hospitals. These challenges will not go away. This commitment to the men and women who fought for our country will call for you to step up and become involved; will beckon you to focus on the need when your busy lives make it easier to turn away, will summon many of you to dedicate a part of your life to a form of public service devoted to veteran care.

Our elected leaders, current and future, will also need to safeguard veteran benefits and programs. I am happy to acknowledge our Delegate to Richmond, Michael Webert, is here with us today. Delegate Webert’s great grandfathers fought in WWI, one a brigadier general and the other as a pilot who was credited with the last downed aircraft of that war. Delegate Webert supported the recent constitutional amendment that provides real property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of servicemen or women killed in action. Last Tuesday the amendment was approved by 88% of the voters in Virginia and we appreciate his efforts on behalf of veterans.

Recently, I had the pleasure of returning to MCB Quantico where I attended a briefing by Col. Harold Van Opdorp, the CO of Officers Candidate School, or OCS, the 10-week boot camp for college students who want to become Marine Corps Officers. (I was one of these naïve young men 33 years ago.) He said one of the challenges facing the military today is the influx of “snow plow” kids at OCS. What, you may ask, is a snow plow kid? Well, it has nothing to do with where you are from. Snow plow kids come from the deserts of New Mexico as readily as from the frozen climes of northern Minnesota.

Snow plow kids are the product of snow plow parents and these are the parents who plow a wide path in front of their children wherever they go; clearing the way of all obstructions and challenges so that their child does not have to face adversity or failure. This is the world where every child gets a trophy.

Now, every good parent is guilty of being a snow plow for their children at one time or another. I know I was with my son and daughter. And there may be little you can do about your parents’ behavior when they scream at a referee or beg a teacher to let you retake a test. But YOU have the final say whether YOU become a snow plow kid. And I am encouraged to believe that very few of you here in Rappahannock fall in this category. I would put you, the students of Rappahannock County, up against any community for your spirit of care, compassion and camaraderie.

But what can you do if you find yourself passively following the snow plow and what does this have to do with Veterans Day? I believe one way to counter complacency is to introduce public service into your lives. I am so very proud of the Service Learning Program here at RCHS as well as efforts of the Leo Club which is the school-based effort of our strong and generous Lions Club. I believe Rappahannock is a county of engaged citizens, made up of both young and old, that understands the value of community service. The seeds of giving back have been planted in your lives by your parents, families, teachers and mentors. I believe the Founding Fathers understood this as a fundamental tenant of democracy and what makes our country great; articulated most eloquently a little over 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy when he said “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

My message to you this Veterans Day, which I hope will resonate long after this ceremony has ended and this speech is forgotten, is to remember the veterans of this great nation that answered the call to public service. My request of you on this Veterans Day 2014 is to find a way that you can give back to vets, both today and into the future. Put that great Rappahannock spirit for community service to work for our veterans. Volunteer at the VA Hospital in Martinsburg, raise a service dog for an organization that places therapy dogs with vets who bear the physical and mental scars of war, volunteer at the USO at Dulles Airport, or contact an American Legion Post or VFW to see what you can do.

I served side by side with Lt. Col. Dave Benhoff who now resides just down Route 522 in Boston. His wife, Jen, is a special education teacher in our elementary school. Dave is the Hospice Volunteer Manager for the Vet to Vet program at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Lt. Col. Benhoff dedicates his time working with hospices so that they can better understand the needs of dying veterans and to connect a volunteer vet with an ailing comrade in the final days of life.

Just this past weekend, students from Shenandoah University in Winchester hosted a Veterans Writing Project for 25 veterans who learned writing skills so that they could express their military experiences in the written word as a form of expression and personal therapy. These are only two examples of people and programs in our area.

You may only be able to do small things now and that’s okay. Your lives are incredibly busy. But if you plant the seed of volunteerism and public service in your life today it will grow to great heights as you mature; just as the acorn becomes the oak.

I also love Veterans Day because it always falls on the day after one of the highlights of my year. Yesterday, on 10 November, the Marine Corps celebrated its 239th birthday. Born in a tavern in Philadelphia in 1775 (think about those roots for just a minute), our motto is Semper Fidelis which, as our Latin students here know, means “Always Faithful.” We have great Marine veterans and descendants of Marine veterans here in Rappahannock. Rappahannock Marine veterans, just to name a few, include your math instructor Eric Doyle, former Marine Band director John Bourgeios, scout leader Mike DelGrosso, architect Dick Manuel, Greg Merritt, Jim Coulter, Lee Hitt, Frank Raiter, and Vietnam vet and photographer Ted Peligottis. Marine fathers who have instilled lasting values in their Rappahannock daughters include Fred Owen, father of Superintendent Dr. Donna Matthews and Melvin Flaherty, father of Headwaters chair, Kathy Grove.

And we know our Corps will pass into the capable hands of persons such as senior Kathryn Fisher who was sworn in a couple of weeks ago and reports to Parris Island two weeks after graduation. I had the distinct pleasure of visiting with Kathryn and her parents at the Marine Corps birthday celebration in Little Washington last night.

I want to close with a poetry reading from another Rapp Marine veteran who passed away just this summer. I did not know Franklin Preston Pulliam, or “Press” as he was known to many, but I wish I had. Born in Woodville in 1922, he attended Rappahannock County High School prior to shipping off to the Pacific. Press was a WWII Marine who didn’t see action but was on board one of the ships that comprised the invasion force onto the Island of Japan. The nuclear bombs that dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have saved his life.

Press became a prodigious writer of essays and poems covering a wide swathe of his experiences and perspectives. In 2008, his poems were chosen to be included in the prestigious Spring Series of poetry readings at the Library of Congress.

He assumed the moniker “The Hazel River Bard” demonstrating his love of Rappahannock County through writing. Press was a man who lived each day to its fullest, always celebrating life and positivity. His collection of original poetry, entitled “And Quietly Flows the Hazel” was given to me recently by his daughter Debbie and his good friend John Kiser. I would like to read “The Red Business” a poem title borrowed from Walt Whitman who wrote extensively from his experiences in the Civil War.

“The Red Business”

Winston Churchill said, “It is better to

Jaw, jaw, jaw than war, war, war

Oh yeah?

Says Who?

General Eisenhower, a great general of all the armies

THE great general of all the armies

later as President of the United States said:

“We must demonstrate the truth of a single proposition.”

So, here goes-


the one I saw

beginning World War II: US Marine Corps-

Quantico, Parris Island, Jacksonville,

you get the point

easy camaraderie, joint after joint

Kinston, Wilson, Eagle Mountain Lake,

Fort Worth, Miramar, San Diego,

Tia Juana, Honolulu, Barbers Point,

Pelilu, Typhoon, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides,

Honolulu, San Diego, El Coronado, San Francisco,

Seattle, Okinawa, and Kerama-retto.

Remember Kerama- retto

where the last battle of World War II

was almost lost-at incalculable cost.

On to Tokyo, a train to Osaka

Invited to tea by a Kamikaze pilot in training.

To be continued, in Korea continued, in Vietnam continued, in Iraq--

Press’s poem reminds me that every veteran’s experience is unique; often determined by men in high places who make decisions to send young men and women in harm’s way for whatever good fight or national interest is afoot. And we will have more young men and women who will answer the call, meaning we will always have veterans and we will always need to care for them.

Honor their service by remaining Always Faithful. Semper Fidelis.

Thank You.

Colonel John Lesinski, USMC (retired)

6 Schoolhouse Road | Washington, VA 22747