I was 17 years old once. I was a young boy growing up in Milledgeville, Georgia, the son of a Baptist Minister and a Godly example of a mother. My sister, Joan, was a summer missionary. My grandparents were farmers and lived on Friendship Road in Buford and my grandfather was a Deacon at Friendship Baptist Church. I had great roots, a great foundation, and a rebellious streak.
Somehow, I ended up as a cadet at North Georgia College. I think my parents sold it to me. They downplayed the military, the lifestyle change, and the soon-to-be loss of my long, curly brown hair at Woody’s Barber Shop on the Dahlonega Square. That August, I found myself in FROG Week with upperclassmen cadets talking to me like I had done something wrong. In my mind, the only thing that I had done wrong was to say yes to going to North Georgia.
As it turned out, I had done the right thing. Being a cadet was the beginning of a life changing experience and an opportunity to serve our great nation as a new Second Lieutenant in the United States Army upon graduation. On that campus, friendships were formed that still exist today. We have bonded, matured, grown in our patriotism, and served each other and our nation with pride.
It is that pride that inspires me to write this article. At 17 years old, I did not fully understand or grasp politics, patriotism, or what our nation’s flag stood for. During FROG Week that August, I soon found out. On the Dahlonega campus of North Georgia College (now the University of North Georgia), a cannon is fired at 5:00 pm every day as the American Flag is lowered and RETREAT is played by a recorded bugler. Any sports activity or outdoor extracurricular activity is halted in honor of our flag and those that fought so gallantly before to give us that right.
I have served our nation in foreign lands and have personally witnessed what a true lack of personal freedoms means. I have been cold, wet, hungry, and tired in training to defend our country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I have jumped out of military aircraft in the bright of day and dark of night. I have stood by the bedside of a dying soldier who paid the ultimate price for freedom just so some of our citizens and athletes can take a knee during the national anthem. I was an American Soldier and in my heart I will always be until they present the folded flag to family members at my funeral.
Where is the America that I learned so much about as a cadet at North Georgia College? Folks, it is time to take a stand and get out of your comfort zone. Thank a veteran or someone in uniform if you see them as I still do. They will not ask this of you, but I will. This Veteran’s Day, you have an opportunity. I hope you will make the most of it.