Have a 'cup of joe' with the veterans you know

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
On July 3, I had the best cup of coffee I've ever had.

It wasn't that the coffee had a special flavor or that it was made in some fancy pot. To be honest, it was a pretty strong blend and needed lots of sugar and creamer for me to choke it down.

To me, though, it wasn't about the coffee itself as much as it was the person who poured it and the people I shared it with. It was with a group of military veterans.

On that day, I was at the local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in my hometown of Wakefield, Mich. The event, aptly named "Coffee for Vets" in a local announcement, was simply that -- some military veterans taking a couple hours in the morning to enjoy each others company over a "cup of joe."

For me, I had taken a seat at a heralded table. The veterans I sat with ranged in experience as far back as World War II to Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War. I knew as soon as I sat down that I would be learning some new things and I'd be renewing my appreciation for people of this caliber.

Being the "guy still in," they were all interested to hear my story and my state of affairs. I, however, was more interested in hearing their stories.

I asked one of them who had served two years during the Vietnam War time frame. He never went to Vietnam because he said he served in the Europe theater of operations. He jokingly said, "I didn't do much." I disagreed and told him I really appreciate his service no matter where he's been. He added that he did lose friends in Vietnam and remembers their sacrifice fondly.

In talking to yet another vet, this one from World War II, he talked about being on a Navy ship in the Pacific and the dangers he faced daily during that Great War. He'd stopped at one point when he was recalling the death and destruction aboard his ship when Kamikaze pilots of the Imperial Japanese navy slammed their aircraft into his ship. I could even see him holding back the tears as he remembered his shipmates who were lost in those attacks.

During this coffee conversation, I ended up talking to all of the veterans who were at the table. These were men I've known about since I was a child, but I never really knew their story. It's always so amazing to me that in such a small town as my hometown, we have so many heroes of wars past amongst the general population.

For instance, one of them had been mayor of the town. Another was a successful business owner. The list goes on. In my life growing up, I knew them as people in the community who were "in the service" at some point.

These men I talked with at the VFW were but a few of the heroes we see around us every day. Throughout my travels in the military, I've met many who not only have served but continue to serve.

I can remember, for six years in a row, when I would go to VFW and American Legion posts in North Dakota and Minnesota to give Memorial Day speeches and meet some amazing heroes. I'd go to these rural communities as an Air Force representative and meet so many different veterans and their families. Often, we'd swap stories over a "cup of joe."

I heard tales of heroism and service. I heard about from veterans who talked about winning the Cold War -- something they were proud of and deservedly so. I remember a story I heard from a Korean War vet from the U.S. Army who was there for the Inchon invasion and was the only one from his unit to ever make it home alive.

In New Jersey, I remember a couple of years ago when my son walked up to a couple of Vietnam vets at a diner and told them, "Thank you for your service." The two veterans were surprised and one could hardly speak. They were just so happy that someone from a younger generation recognized their service. They even bought me a "cup of joe" after one of them said, "You are raising some fine children."

The list goes on, but my point is simple -- get to know your veterans. They could be in your hometown, in your family or out on a deployment somewhere today. The sacrifices they and their families have made and continue to make, and the veterans who are no longer here, should always be remembered.

This Veteran's Day, I encourage you to get out and enjoy a "cup of joe" with the veterans you know. You too may have the best cup of coffee you've ever had.