Veterans Day: Local vets proud of recognition of service, sacrifice

benw@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 10, 2013 

Mike Haskey/mhaskey@leder-enquirer.comRetired Lt. Col. Sam Nelson watches the 2013 Veterans Day Parade as it passes the reviewing stand Saturday morning. Nelson is president of the Chattahoochee Valley Veterans Council.

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

As the nation honors men and women who served in the armed forces, veterans stand tall with pride for helping to preserve freedom.

"First of all, I'm proud and I feel strongly about our nation taking a day to commit to the memory of the military and what it means to us and our freedom," said retired Maj. Gen. Ken Leuer, a former Fort Benning commander and member of the Ranger Hall of Fame. "The fact that we recognize that it didn't come free."

While veterans are being remembered, Leuer said honoring them and giving thanks really are a projection of freedom in the future.

"Our veterans willingly serve, they are proud to serve and this is what's going to keep us free," said Leuer, who served two tours in Vietnam.

The retired general said he recently thought about soldiers he served with and some who gave it all in the jungles of Vietnam. He had known many of the soldiers since 1959, when he joined the 505th Airborne Regiment at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the unit was deployed to Germany before they eventually went to Vietnam.

"We went over as a unit battle group so everybody was there together and no one left the unit for at least the first year, so there was a lot of camaraderie built up." Leuer said. "I was thinking of the number of people and I think I counted nine that were in that battle group when we went over there. Nine of those originals were killed in Vietnam later."

Leuer wasn't with the soldiers, but he remembers losses in the Central Highlands, Pleiku and Khe Sanh.

"We started losing them in Vietnam in 1965, but it was really heavy in 1967 and 1968," he said.

Although the United States has spent more than 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, Leuer noted the important role of soldiers during peacetime as well.

"It isn't only the service in combat, but the service also in peacetime that keeps us ready," Leuer said.

David Lockett, a Ranger who served with the 1st Infantry Division and 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, said it was the blood of veterans that ensured families had security in America.

"Even though we have local law enforcement, imagine if the war was here instead of a foreign land," Lockett said. "Those veterans made sure that our country remained safe."

Lockett, a retired first sergeant, saw action in the dangerous A Shau Valley, Phu Loi, Bearcat Mountain east of Saigon and other locations in Vietnam.

He said it's an honor to think about the time when no one cared about veterans during his military service.

"We look forward to doing the job assigned to us and when we got back, old enough and retired, it seems like we are a forgotten people," Lockett said.

"Veterans Day to me is very important. I looked back over the years we have been here, some of the things we have accomplished and I say nothing in this country could have come about without the help of the veterans."

More than $3.5 billion have been pumped into Fort Benning, but Leuer is concerned about cutbacks in the force. Leuer said he has been through three reductions in force during his three decades of service.

"What really happens in the inside of the building, you can't get spare parts for the toilets, they're overflowing, the shower doesn't work, the mirror is broken, the light socket is out," he said. "You get up in the morning and the first thing that happens is you look at this mess. Then morale goes down from there."

The soldiers who are returning from Afghanistan need jobs, Lockett said.

"I came out of Vietnam twice and I realized that jobs is one thing that will make the economy grow," he said. "Our people coming back today need to know that."

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