The Battle to preserve our freedom is never won. It must be fought anew by each generation. This fact has been brought home every day for the last 20 years to those of us here at the American Veterans Center. Every day is Veterans Day at the AVC.
It has been my honor as president of the American Veterans Center to meet and work with some of the greatest military heroes of the last two centuries. Among the dozens I could discuss in detail, here are three.
Army Corporal Frank W. Buckles
The last of the American veterans of World War I, Buckles was born in Missouri in 1901 and volunteered for service in the Army in 1917, at age 16. Assigned as an ambulance driver in France, the horrors of war were quickly made real for Buckles as he transported dozens of mangled, bleeding bodies from the front to medical stations for treatment.
Following the end of World War I, Buckles worked for a shipping company, and in 1941, he was stationed in Manila to supply American troops stationed there when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. On December 8, 1941, the Japanese invaded the Philippines, and on January 2, 1942 they captured Manila.
Buckles was taken prisoner and spent three years and two months in a POW camp. Following his release, Buckles returned to his farm in Maryland where he was active in patriotic and community activities until his death in 2011 at age 110.
Hall of Fame Pitcher Bob Feller
Feller was a national phenom when he debuted for the Cleveland Indians in 1936, at age 17. On December 7, 1941, Feller was driving from his home in Iowa to Chicago to renew his Major League Baseball contract when he heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on his radio.
Reaching Chicago, Feller drove straight to a Navy recruiting office and volunteered for service. He did so despite the fact his father had terminal cancer, and, as the sole support of his family, Feller could have had an exemption.
Feller served for most of the war as a gun crew captain on the battleship Alabama, seeing action in many naval battles across the pacific.
When he retired from baseball in 1948, Feller had chalked up 266 wins, having given up four prime pitching years. Despite the fact that his time in the military cost him an estimated 100 wins, Feller always said that his proudest achievement was his service in the United States Navy.
Asked what he wanted to be remembered for, Feller said, “As an American who loved his county. Not for baseball.”
Marine Sergeant Marco Martinez
As a teenager growing up in New Mexico, Martinez was a self-described juvenile delinquent who was briefly involved in gang activities. In 2001, Marco volunteered for service in the Marine Corps in a determined effort to turn his life around.
In 2003, Martinez was part of the First Marine Expeditionary Force moving northward through the outskirts of Baghdad in operation Iraqi Freedom. On April 12, his platoon was called in to help another squad that had been ambushed. Immediately they came under fire. After his squad leader was wounded, Martinez took command and led his platoon forward under withering enemy fire from a nearby building.
Picking up an abandoned enemy grenade launcher, Martinez fired into the building, temporary silencing the enemy and allowing for a badly wounded Marine to be evacuated. Martinez then single-handedly attacked the building, killing four enemy soldiers with a grenade and his rifle.
For his incredible courage under fire, Marco Martinez became, at 22, the first Hispanic American since Vietnam to be awarded the Navy Cross, the Nation’s second highest award for valor.
Buckles, Feller and Martinez represent different backgrounds and different eras, but they share one transcendent quality in common — their love for their country and their willingness not only to fight to defend it but, if necessary, to die for it.
James C. Roberts, President, the American Veterans Center, [email protected]