In Honor of those before us

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Joel Fortenberry
  • 509th Contracting Squadron
Each year on Veterans Day my mind's eye pictures members of our country's greatest generation. Their accomplishments and sacrifices in World War II and beyond exceed my ability to put their deeds into words, but surely, they did nothing less than ensure freedom and the promise of freedom, the world over. When I am in their presence, I am in awe.

What a challenge we have, what a privilege we have, to honor the men and women who went before us and to follow in their footsteps. The footsteps of men like Floyd Hall. On Dec. 6, 1941, Mr. Hall's life plans were built on following his father into the welding business. When his country called Dec. 8, he answered, alongside thousands of his fellow Americans, without question or hesitation. On the line "reason for enlistment," he wrote, "serve country." He served with distinction as both enlisted store manager and commissioned officer until his plane was shot down in February 1945. On Sunday, March 25, 1945, Floyd Hall of Sedalia, Mo., a 1939 graduate of Smith Cotton High School, died in a Prisoner of War Camp near Iwo Jima.

Today, more than 60 years since his passing, the spirit of service and love of country embodied by Floyd Hall is alive and well at Whiteman. If he were alive today, I imagine Mr. Hall would swell with pride as a B-2, A-10 or Apache flies over his hometown. I imagine he would be prouder still if he could see the character of the men and women, military and civilian, who serve their country, men and women who if asked "reason for enlistment" would respond "serve country." I imagine he would be honored to know that future generations, like his own, refused to let threats to freedom prosper.

In his address to the nation on June 6, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered the following prayer for those engaged in combat on the shores of France,

"Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice."

Today, as in June 1944, our sons and daughters, moms and dads, husbands and wives, pride of our nation, are again engaged in a mighty endeavor, one that calls them and their families to great sacrifice and sometimes great anguish. Never forget that our work and our sacrifice has a noble and right purpose. We fly, fight and win not to conquer, but to liberate. We train, prepare and demonstrate our skills to friend and foe alike, ensuring both know that we can hunt down and destroy those who choose to be our foe. On this Veteran's Day and every day, at home or abroad, know that your service honors the sacrifice of past generations, and know that when future generations around the world stand in your presence and consider what your service has given them, they will stand in awe.

(Editor's note: Floyd Hall is one of the eight American pilots feature in the book "Flyboys" written by James Bradley.)