Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. George Close remembers the first time he took the oath to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution when he joined the military in 1966 and those words became more meaningful to him the next eight times he was promoted.
It was the nation’s first veterans who secured the country’s independence at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, Close told the crowd at a Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 11 at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial. Of the 40 Founding Fathers who signed the Constitution in September 1787, 23 were Revolutionary War veterans, he said.
“Freedom has had a home and a defender,” Close said. “We live in liberty because of the courage of veterans.”
The event, which featured the presentation of colors by the Air Force Color Guard and singing by the Langley High School Madrigals, drew probably more than 100 people.
Forty million veterans have served since the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, Close said. About 19 million of those veterans still are living and many of them reside in Virginia, he said.
Close complimented today’s “extraordinarily professional” military, saying its members are every bit as good as their storied predecessors and are promoted based on performance and potential.
The retired general added he liked to highlight the efforts of the less-heralded Coast Guard and special-operations personnel, as well as the multitude of civilian contractors who keep things humming.
Support for veterans is strong in this country, but Close recommended people go even further and reach out to those who served. He recommended asking veterans where they’re from, the service they were in, what their Military Occupational Specialty (i.e., job) was, where they served and what they think of today’s military.
“They’ll probably complain a little,” Close said. “That’s OK.”
If the service member is currently deployed, the public should inquire about the quality of three all-important things: their food, Internet service and gym, he said.
Close encouraged the crowd to familiarize itself with the U.S. Constitution, not neglect their faith in God and country, appreciate veterans and vote.
“This country has given me more than I ever gave it,” he said.
Close told the story of a 20-year-old man commissioned as an Army lieutenant during the Vietnam War. The man became a Ranger and a reconnaissance-platoon leader – two impressive achievements – and was severely wounded 10 months into his tour. He spent 18 months recovering at Walter Reed and met his future wife during this period.
That young man turned out to be the event’s master of ceremonies, Andy Wilson, who is president of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial. Wilson asked audience members to raise their hands if they were veterans and many did.
As he had at least one previous ceremony, Wilson quoted from a speech by retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly that recounted the last six seconds of life for Marine Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter who saved a barracks from a suicide truck bomber in Ramadi, Iraq, in April 2008.
“Marines are not normal,” Kelly quoted an Iraqi who had witnessed the attack and taken cover in time to save himself.
“We have men and women on duty like this today watching over us in our armed forces,” said Wilson, who fondly recalled his Army service.
“It was proudest days of our life to serve,” he said. “We’d do it again if we could.”