Nov. 13, 2017 – Washington Co., WI – UW-Washington County and the Student Veterans of America hosted a ceremony today commemorating Veterans Day.
The noon event was held in the campus theatre and featured the presentation of colors by the local VFW, songs by the Moraine Chorus and a speech by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Roger Cross who served from 1966 to 1972, including a stint in Vietnam as a mortar gunner.
Cross’s speech is below.
Good Morning, Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today at your Veterans Day service. I want to talk about Heroes. What is a Hero? Here is the modern Goggle definition of a hero.
- A person who is admired for courage, Outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
- Another name for a submarine sandwich.
I think we want to talk about definition number 1.
I was born and raised here in West Bend, and this was my world. I was not a very good student, and paid little attention to what was going on in the rest of the world. Mom and Dad both worked to keep food on the table, and we were warm at night.
When I was about 10, my sister married a young man named Bill. He quickly became known as Uncle Bill. Uncle Bill was a soldier in the Korean War, and would tell me how proud he was to be in the United States Army. Uncle Bill would tell me stories about the war, about patrolling thru villages and seeing families living in squallier, kids cold and begging for food. He would tell me how terrible war was, but how it was necessary to keep our country safe. I’m not sure I understood back then about war, but I couldn’t imagine a family with no housing and not enough to eat, here in West Bend I was safe and well fed. This was my world. Uncle Bill was my hero.
Growing up I had two older brothers. David was 10 years older than I. David left high school to join the United States Air force. David was stationed in Germany for a year, and would write me letters about how proud he was to be in the Air Force, but he also talked about some of the local villages in Germany where he would see families with kids with torn and ragged clothing, kids hungry and cold. I heard what he said, but I was well fed and comfortable here in my little world. Big brother David was another one of my heroes.
My second brother was Dwight; he was 7 years older than me. Whitey left high school to join the United States Navy. He played drums in the Navy marching band while attending medical school and became a Navy Corpsman. He was attached to a Marine Corps unit stationed in Japan. Again I got these letters about the poor families with no food, no clothing, and no heat in the winter. That didn’t happen in my world, I was safe here in West Bend and I wasn’t old enough to understand it was the Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, and Marines who kept me safe. Whitey later re-enlisted in the Marine Corps and was stationed in Japan for an additional year. Another brother and another hero.
Growing up, I looked up to these men; they covered all 4 branches of our military, protecting us from foreign aggression from a cold and hungry world. These men were my heroes, along with Roy Rogers who won the west.
In 1960 I entered my high school years with a poor attitude followed by poor grades. I was a drummer in a rock band for several years playing at local sock hops and teen bars. West Bend and the surrounding area was my world, I thought very little about what was going on anywhere else in the world, and thought very little about the men and women serving in harms way to keep me safe. After 4 years of high school and not nearly enough credits to graduate, I entered the work force, assembling outboard motors with Uncle Bill, and then running a printing press at the West Bend Company.
And then I met a girl, not just any girl, but the prettiest girl I had ever seen. She was a lot younger than me and she was going to be a freshman in high school. Now if I could just get the high school to give me another chance, I could be in school with her and I could keep an eye on her. The high school agreed to let me come back, so I went back to high school and I graduated in 1966.
The Vietnam war was raging in 1966, the evening news showed young men fighting and dying half way around the world, but I was safe and warm here in my world, I had the prettiest girl in town, and I had my heroes here in West Bend (except for Roy Rogers who had died). A few weeks before my high school graduation I received my draft notice. I recalled all the stories I had heard from my heroes about life in each branch of the Military, but somehow I was drawn to be a Marine.
On July 5, 1966 I left the safety of small town West Bend and entered Marine Corp Boot camp. We all think our boot camp was the toughest, but I’m sure mine was because I had this big chip on my shoulder, and drill instructors are well trained at chip removal. A few weeks into boot camp they started to access where we each might best fit into the Corp. I had run a printing press for a while; surely the Marines needed a printing press operator. My drill instructor put his hand on my shoulder and said “VIETNAM”. Wait, I’m not interested in going to Vietnam, Marines were dying in Vietnam. I was a drummer, maybe the Marines needed a drummer in the Marine Corps band, my drill instructor looked in my eyes and said “VIETNAM”. A few weeks later I shot really well during rifle qualification week. Maybe the Marine rifle team, nope, “VIETNAM”
By Christmas of 1966 I was in Vietnam, attached to a rifle company near a little village called Dai Loc. I was in country less than 24 hours when the fire team I was put with walked into an ambush, and I carried out my first dead Marine. What had I gotten myself into! I was now seeing first hand what Uncle Bill and my brothers had told me about. I saw young men fighting and dying for their country, and I also saw those Vietnamese families living in grass huts, kids and old men so skinny they could hardly walk. This is not how life was in my world in the United States.
I survived Vietnam, came home with a few bumps, bruises, and scars, and I came home with a new understanding of how other parts of the world lived, and why the serviceman and woman had to fight to protect our way of life. I had Marines die in my arms while defending the United States of America and our way of life. These men, one by one were added to my hero list. Now I had seen first hand what Uncle Bill and my brothers had fought for. I came back to West Bend in the spring of 1968, just in time to bury one of my best friends thru high school, Glen Dean, United States Army, killed in action, Vietnam. Glen had become another Hero in my life, paying with his life to protect ours.
That pretty little blonde girl? She waited for me, and we married and raised a family here in West Bend. 40 years after my service, my Grand-daughter introduced me to her new boyfriend. I liked him right away, probably because he said he was going to be a Marine. The love affair with my Grand-daughter didn’t work out, but this young man accepted the torch of freedom and joined the Marine Corps and did his part to defend the United States and our way of life. I’m proud to say I know him still and he is here today. Another defender of our freedom, another one of my heroes, Mitch Bury.
I have always had a love for handguns, and I was quite good at it. Seven years ago, I was asked to become a coach for the Ozaukee County High School pistol team. I accepted, and on practice nights I was always sure to wear a shirt or jacket that said “USMC”. One night I had a high school freshman on the team walk up to me and say “hey coach, when I graduate from high school, I’m going to be a Marine”. I said good for you son, but secretly hoped he would change his mind. I liked this kid, his dad was a Marine, Marines die in combat, and I didn’t want to see this kid come home in a box. 4 years later, Andrew “Bubba” Holzer had become a high school handgun National champion, and as promised, he joined the Marine Corps. His last day in Grafton, he thanked me for the handgun training. Bubba has stopped calling me “coach”, I’m proud to say he now calls me “Grandpa”. Corporal Bubba Holzer had taken the torch of freedom from his Dad and from this old Marine and has now proudly carried it with the 15th Marine expeditionary unit aboard the USS America, currently in Egypt.
Today I realize the heroes from small town West Bend have blanketed the World, covering all branches of the Military. The local Heroes have changed to a younger, better trained, more capable force, all fighting for the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States of America, and all keeping my little part of the world here in West Bend safe.
Let’s take another look at that Google definition of a Hero:
A person admired for courage, outstanding
Achievements or noble qualities.
Think about that definition, “A person admired for courage and outstanding Achievements”? Our society seems to have forgotten the true heroes and found the people they admire for courage and outstanding achievements are not the veteran, not the Army or Marine Corps Corporal who lays his life on the line every day for $1916 a month, but the man who makes Millions because he can throw a ball, catch a pass, bat a ball out of the park, kick a field goal, look pretty on the silver screen, or star in your favorite TV show, and then some choose to kneel during our National Anthem. These men and ladies get paid millions and have never had to stand up in the line of fire to defend the freedoms that they enjoy. If you still watch professional sports, that’s your choice, I enjoy a good Packer game, and Blue Bloods is my favorite TV show. Just remember these men are not today’s Heroes, they’re just people who are very good at what they do. So we admire them for what they do, and then watch as some of them disrespect what we veterans did to honor our flag and protect our way of life.
The student veterans here today are my new heroes. I can no longer fight for our freedoms, but you student veterans carried the torch of small town West Bend for me. West Bend and the rest of the free world owe you our gratitude for signing that blank check, payable to the United States of America, for an amount up to and including your life, all given for your fellow man.