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Thank you is all most veterans need

Montgomery shares Vietnam experience: “These kids were my friends.”

SOLON– We don’t know them all, but we owe them all.
The heartfelt message from Solon graduate and Vietnam veteran Mike Montgomery was delivered to Solon High School students Tuesday, Nov. 12,
during the district’s annual Veterans Appreciation Program.
Montgomery was a member of the 1963 football team and a 1964 graduate of Solon High School. Three months after graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Vietnam with numerous commendations and medals.
After his service, he obtained a doctorate in business administration with a minor in management.
After noting the 100th anniversary of the American Legion, Montgomery quoted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during a wartime address.
“Never have so many owed so much to so few,” he said, pointing out one-and-a-half percent of the American population is currently serving in the military.
The right of freedom you have today to get up go to school and use a cell phone, he told students, “was given to you by someone you don’t know.”
America owes a great debt of gratitude to veterans, he explained.
The motto of the U.S Marine Corps is semper fidelis, always faithful, he said. “We are faithful to our county, we are faithful to our colors, we are faithful to each other.”
It is a special day as the nation remembers all the men and women who have served and are serving in the Armed Forces, he continued.
“Each and every veteran bears upon their body and their mind permanent, horrible scars of dangerous service,” Montgomery said.
People in the military have to do a lot of things that other people don’t, he shared. At 18 years of age, you make out a will and give someone power of attorney.
“We are doing things that haunt us at night so you can sleep in peace,” he said. “We spend long periods away from home and our family, so that you and your family can be safe. We have sacrificed a lot in life so that you can be free.
“We have done these things because we have sworn an oath to our country, and I’ll live by that oath until the day I die, because there’s no expiration date on it,” he continued.
Everyone that joins the military takes the same oath, he said. “And as I stand here today, I’d do it all over again.”
“We don’t know them all, but we owe them all,” Montgomery added.
He described three of them for the mass assembly of students– Paul Sanchez, 20, from New Mexico, Darrel Trube, 18, of Kansas, and Duane Halsted, 18, from Des Moines.
“These kids were my friends,” he said.
They spent a lot of time together, taking liberty together, talking about cars and what they wanted to do when they got out of the service.
On a sunny June day in 1965, he said, “all three of them were killed in less than five minutes of each other in the same place at the same time on the same day.
“I was there,” he said. “There was nothing I could do.”
The three were cut down by machine gun fire and snipers.
“And it just tore my guts out,” Montgomery said. “To know that I lost my best friends just in a matter of minutes.”
It was hard, but the hardest part was that each of the young men had written letters to their mothers.
“I gave my letter to Paul and Paul gave his letter to me,” he said.
The letter, he continued, would sound something like this:
“Mom: If you get this letter, you’ll know something bad happened, and I won’t be coming home. I know you’ll be hurt, but remember, I’ll be waiting for you in heaven, and I love you very much,” he said, his voice breaking.
Their names are inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he said to the students– visit them if you get a chance
“They’re on a wall with 58,000-plus others that gave their all so you could be here today,” he said.
It’s been the same for 100 years, from the doughboys of World War I to the Greatest Generation, which fought a war on both sides of the world and won in World War II, he said.
Korea, the forgotten war, where U.S. forces were outnumbered tremendously by the Chinese, and suffered from a lack of food and freezing temperatures; the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis, during which the armed forces were on peak alert as international tensions increased.
And then came Vietnam, he said, “an unpopular war fought for an ungrateful nation by the best we had.”
At the time it was called a conflict, not a war, Montgomery said, and the average age of a soldier was 19.
Think about it, he told the students, almost the same age as you. Think about making out your will, your power of attorney, your mom letter.
“It’s quite a burden for a young man to bear,” he said.
After 15 months in combat and being in the hospital after contracting malaria, Montgomery came home and was walking through the airport in Los Angeles when “some long-haired hippie spit on me and asked me how many babies I killed today.”
A police officer not too far away observed what happened, and escorted Montgomery away.
But it stuck with him.
The transition is hard, he said. The burden doesn’t lift easy.
We have a national crisis, he informed the crowd. Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide.
“That’s totally unacceptable,” he said. It’s too high a price to ask.
He urged students to talk to anyone they might think has a problem; to say “hi.”
The next time you see someone wearing military clothing, he said, “Just lean over and say thank you, that’s all most people need.”
“We who have experienced war, pray the hardest for peace,” he said, before closing with a variation of a Veterans Day poem and asking students to take the time to reach out.
“In your own way, I want you to say thank you because without them, you wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be here and the things that we have wouldn’t be around us,” he said. “So have a good day, and a good life and remember, God Bless America.”