Chaplains in the military are a special breed. Not only do they assume the hardships of their own military service, including long family separations and deployments into combat zones, but they also try to lighten the burdens of the men and women they serve with by helping them carry their loads. Chaplain Lavern W. Gardai, U.S. Army (Retired), who served with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam and then went on to a distinguished twenty-eight-year Army career, knows these stresses all to well—he lived them firsthand. From ministering to the wounded, to surviving a deadly helicopter crash, he’s done it all. This is his story
Voices To Veterans
Let’s help veterans tell their stories. Maybe they worked in the mess halls serving chow, or helped load ordnance onto jets waiting their turn to launch on combat missions, or maybe they had to watch their friends get hit in an ambush or a firefight in a rice paddy in Vietnam. It’s time we hear what they have to say!
If you are a veteran, or you know a veteran you’d like to have considered, send an email to VoicesToVeterans@gmail.com with the name of the veteran, a short summary of his or her story, and a picture of the veteran in uniform if you have it. I’ll then select veterans from the nominations I receive and write-up their stories for the Voices to Veterans Spotlight. Every veteran whose story I feature will receive a free signed copy of my latest Steve Stilwell legal thriller, Sapphire Pavilion, which is dedicated to “Wounded Warriors and Vietnam War veterans, especially those heroes still waiting to come home.”
Everyone faces adversity in life. How an individual deals with that adversity determines the course their life will follow. Specialist Ashley Hawkins, U.S. Army (Retired), has dealt with more than her share of adversity, yet she’s never let it define her. Instead, she confronts it head on and overcomes it, always looking toward a better future. This unwavering determination resulted in her being the first female soldier in U.S. history to be awarded the Bronze Star with a “V” for valor in combat. This is her story.
Photographs are like time capsules, forever freezing a moment in time. They provide us with a window into the past, documenting our history in a way the written word cannot. Yet for Sergeant Ron Haeberle, U.S. Army, a photograph he took on March 16, 1968, did more than just look back in time. It foretold the future—a future built on courage and survival and shining as a beacon of hope to all who see and understand it. Now, over fifty years after Ron’s Nikon camera captured the image, it serves as an inspiration for Ron in every aspect of his life. This is Ron’s story.
In the 1965 World War II movie classic In Harm’s Way, the character Commander Paul Eddington, played by Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas, describes the coming war in the Pacific as “a gut bustin’, mother-lovin’ Navy war.” All the men who served on ships in the Pacific theater from the start of the war at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, to the end of the war in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, know just how true that statement was. One of those men was Seaman First Class Edward Collins, U.S. Navy, who joined the fray in 1943 aboard the USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), a light aircraft carrier that participated in all the major Pacific War Navy campaigns in 1944 and 1945. Manning his station on the USS San Jacinto’s flight deck during everything from hurricanes to kamikaze attacks, he lived and breathed the history that has inspired generations of Americans ever since. This is his story.
Many people who serve in the military are inspired to do so by a family member or friend who served before them. Oftentimes the role model is a parent or grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or even a brother or sister. Technical Sergeant Mark Himmer, U.S. Air Force, had two family members in whose footsteps he followed. He also had the unique experience of serving with one of them for fourteen of the fifteen years he spent in the Minnesota Air National Guard. This is Mark’s story.
Less than five years after the end of World War II, the United States again found itself at war, this time on the Korean Peninsula fighting Communist aggression. Despite 1.8 million U.S. military members serving in the theater of operations during the bloody three-year conflict, Americans know little of their service and sacrifice. Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Keith Bunton, U.S. Navy, experienced the Korean War off the shores of Korea onboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex (CVA-9), which launched airstrikes against enemy targets during two Korean War deployments. This is Petty Officer Bunton’s story.
It takes courage to enlist in the military. Once you raise your right hand and take the oath to serve and defend the Constitution, you must go wherever the military says you are needed most. When the nation is at war, that need could very well be in a war zone where your life is at risk. Such is the case with Specialist Andrea Marshall, who enlisted in the Army in 2008. Four years later, she found herself assigned as a combat medic at a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan. This is Andrea’s story.
Sometimes in life we are presented with choices where the “right” choice is obvious. Sergeant Jim Elsener, U.S. Marine Corps, was given such a choice in January 1966. He could finish out his enlistment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, having served in the Marines with honor, and return to civilian life in the Midwest. Or he could choose a course that promised many unknowns. Jim chose the latter, and as the poet Carl Sandburg so eloquently expressed, that choice has made all the difference. This is Jim’s story.
Destiny has a way of just happening, whether you want it to or not. Staff Sergeant Dean Moss, U.S. Air Force, knows that all too well. No matter how many times he tried to point his life in a particular direction, destiny kept bringing him back to where he was meant to be. He was destined to serve our country in Vietnam,
Some people have a knack for telling stories. When you listen, you can’t help but share in their excitement as they reveal an unexpected outcome or describe an event that made a difference in their lives or the lives of other people. Petty Officer Third Class Eugene Walker, U.S. Navy, has the storytelling gift.