Honoring heroism, remembering sacrifice
Noting the readiness Americans have always shown to fight for their country in times of need, from the Revolutionary War to World War II and the post-9/11 conflicts, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson said Thursday it's important to remember most veterans are simply ordinary citizens who made extraordinary sacrifices.
Anderson, a three-star general who commands Fort Bragg and the XVIII Airborne Corps, was the guest of honor at the annual Lee County Veterans Breakfast held Thursday morning at the Enrichment Center. He thanked the crowd of dozens of veterans from conflicts over the past 70 years for their service, and he reminded everyone to reflect on the sacrifices men and women are still making fighting enemies overseas.
"Today is a time to remember, but it's also a time to reflect on our soldiers serving now," Anderson said, later adding: "Let us not forget the terrible price ... that has been paid for our freedom."
Anderson started his talk by noting the 60th anniversary of the ceasefire that stopped the Korean War, and he also specifically recognized William Waddell, an impeccably dressed 99-year-old who is Lee County's oldest veteran. Waddell, who is black, served in the African and European theaters during World War II in a military that was not desegregated until 1948, and Anderson said he's proud of how inclusive the military is now because of the noble service of black, Native American and other troops in wars past.
"Bullets do not discriminate," he said. "And no race, creed or color has a monopoly on courage."
Afterward, Anderson was presented with pottery from Sanford ceramic artist John Miller, as well as a walking stick carved by Billy Walker, a local Navy veteran who said he loves woodworking and has nerve damage in his legs, so he understands the need for a good stick. Anderson thanked him and said he hoped he wouldn't need it anytime soon.
Lee County Veterans Services Director John Sandrock said the breakfast hasn't always had a speaker, but that he was glad to have gotten Anderson, who just took over at Fort Bragg in June, to come talk to the crowd. Vietnam veteran Barry Smith said he was impressed.
"It really surprised me that he was a three-star," Smith said. "We haven't had anybody that big in Sanford in years."
John Lyczkowski, also a Vietnam veteran, said he was glad Anderson honored Waddell and the county's other World War II veterans. Lyczkowksi was born in America after his family fled Europe following the war, and he said his parents and several of his siblings owe their lives to Allied troops.
"Two sisters and a brother were born in a German concentration camp," Lyczkowski said. "I owe those old veterans everything."
And local Sen. Ronald Rabin — a retired Army colonel who exchanged hugs with Anderson, whom Rabin said he first met while the general was a major — said he he was grateful for the mention of Korea, calling it America's forgotten war. Rabin deployed there after the ceasefire had been signed and later went on to win a Silver Star for leading special forces troops in the Vietnam War.
"I remember seeing the newsreels of soldiers coming down from the mountains, their feet frozen solid and scarves wrapped around their heads," Rabin said, adding that he knew cold from growing up in upstate New York, by the Great Lakes. "... I served in the Demilitarized Zone (the boundary between North and South Korea established by the ceasefire), and it was the most horrendous cold — awful."
Anderson, in his speech, encouraged the veterans to reminisce together by telling such stories. He also urged them to think about the current generation of soldiers, fighting not on the beaches of Normandy, the cold hills of Korea or the humid jungles of Vietnam, but in the arid heat of Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries. He also took the opportunity to tout his own troops.
"They are the best and brightest, and patriotic to the core," Anderson said, adding that they know and respect the sacrifices that previous generations — "That's you guys," he told the crowd — have made for the freedoms the country enjoys today.