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Veterans reflect on reasons for serving
ARLINGTON — Civilians and veterans alike again lined the sidewalks of Olympic Avenue for Arlington's annual Veterans Day parade on Monday, Nov. 11, with crowds that included at least two active-duty service members in uniform this year.
Navy Lt. Sean Duncan and Airman 1st Class David Smith provided something of a study in contrasts that morning, with the 22-year fleet officer from Whidbey Island wearing his dress blues and accompanied by his wife Rebecca, while the six-month Air Force enlistee sported a camouflage uniform and had his friend, Cassie Irwin, by his side.
Both men, however, snapped to attention and rendered sharp salutes at the sight of the American flag, and agreed on their feelings about Arlington's public demonstrations of its patriotism.
"It's nice to see this town supporting veterans as a whole," Duncan said. "The truck in the parade was full of older veterans, including those from not only World War II and Korea, but Vietnam as well. The Vietnam veterans didn't get a lot of respect while they were still in, so it's nice to see that America has really gotten behind them, along with our other veterans, especially over the past 10 years or so. It really gives weight to what our service members have chosen to do."
"I was in Air Force Junior ROTC all four years of high school," said Smith, an Arlington High School alum. "I always wanted to give back to my country, and serving in the military is one of the most noble things you can do."
While Smith hadn't fully anticipated the degree to which he would be removed from his family and hometown, he has no regrets about his decision.
"I'm glad I did it," Smith said, before telling Duncan, "I have a lot of respect for someone who can stay in the service for more than 20 years, because that's a lot of dedication. I'll try to do the same."
A new feature of this year's Veterans Day parade in Arlington was a succession of banners bearing the names and images of fallen service members from Washington state, one of which was carried by Arlington native and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, of the state's 2nd Congressional District.
Later that same day, more service members, past and present, congregated at the Arlington American Legion Post 76 Lounge for its annual round of free meals for veterans.
Post 76 Cmdr. Chris Raboin, an Operation Desert Storm veteran, used the brief ceremony at the start of the dinner to call attention to the fact that members of America's active-duty military, National Guard and Reserve forces have been committing suicide at an average rate of one a day over the past year alone.
"We are losing more troops by our own hands than we are by the enemy," Raboin said. "Only those who have experienced firsthand the horrors of combat can understand why these young men and women feel compelled to take such drastic and permanent measures. It's up to us to ensure that every veteran feels that his or her service to this country is appreciated by their fellow Americans."
The Post Lounge's diners that afternoon included a diverse age range of veterans, from those who had survived WWII, Korea and Vietnam, to those who'd served in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Joel Peterson joined the Army in 2010, while Bill Tate joined the Navy in 1988, but both men stayed in until earlier this year, and both men retained strong sentiments about the service.
"I went into the Infantry because I wanted to kick a little [butt]," Peterson laughed, before turning serious. "I'll never forget the sense of camaraderie and brotherhood I felt while I was in. To me, today is about all veterans, but especially those who didn't come home. We need to appreciate that what we have is because of them."
"So many people fail to realize that, when someone signs up for any branch of the service, they're agreeing to do their duty up to and including the cost of their own life," said Tate, whose tattoos include a stylized American flag and the "Don't Tread On Me" Gadsden flag. "And they're doing it for nothing more than to defend the Constitution and the citizens of the United States."
"When people tell me, 'Thank you,' for serving, I want to say, 'Thank me? I wanted to do this!'" Peterson said.