Despite making several trips to Washington D.C. during the last 30 years, Vietnam War veteran Bob Garrison never stopped to visit the memorial wall.
“I’ve wanted to kind of put it in the back of my head, just forget about it. All these, some 40 years. But there is a yearning there to acknowledge it somehow in myself that year, it did happen,” said a now 74-year-old Army veteran who was drafted at the age of 24.
“I had mixed emotions about (the war) then … I came close to not going,” recalled the East Tennessee soldier who specialized in light artillery.
Garrison was among a plane load of veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam escorted on an all-expenses paid roundtrip to the nation’s capital to see the memorials built in their honor.
In addition to sharing his experience aboard HonorAir Knoxville Flight #25 during an on-camera interview, Mr. Garrison took time to answer the following 10 questions about the impact his military service had on his life.
1. What one person influenced you most in life?
My dad influenced me most. He was a child of the Great Depression, an extraordinary story of itself. He was drafted for WWII along with his younger brother and just about every other man he knew. He was responsible for me not dodging the draft. I trusted his judgment at the time, though I didn't like it.
2. Do you feel honored and respected for serving your country?
I never felt honored or respected for my service until 47 years after my separation. The HonorAir trip and the reception we got at the airport when we got back was such a contrast to what happened to me when I got back from Vietnam, almost overwhelmed me. The fact that so many people, many of whom were not even born yet during the war, saw fit to go to all that trouble to make me and the others feel special is extraordinary. Everyone who participated in that program deserves to be honored.
3. How can people thank you for your service?
The best way to honor me for my service is to honor and uphold the core principles and freedoms in our Constitution for all people.
4. How do you honor your fellow service men and women?
I need to do more to honor other veterans as well, especially those who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. I have reached out to only one thus far. He lost a leg and much more in Ballad, Iraq.
5. How do you think this generation of military men and women is different or similar to yours?
I think the Vets of Iraq and Afghanistan probably are facing the same challenges we faced. I know that the ones I’ve met remind me a lot of myself 47 years ago.
6. What influence did your military service have on the rest of your life?
My military experience changed my outlook on life drastically. Before, I was very ambitious to be wealthy and hold a very prestigious job in government or industry. That desire disappeared during my tour of duty and never returned.
7. Does your family have a history of military service?
My father and his brother served in Europe during WWII. My older brother was a commissioned officer in the Navy during the Vietnam war and served on the USS Enterprise.
8. Would you encourage younger generations in your family to join the service?
I would not encourage future generations to volunteer for military service. Once in, you give up your freedom of self determination and the right to make your own moral judgments with regard to the use of the very lethal weapons in your charge. The battlefield is a guaranteed lesson in Murphy’s Law.
9. How has your opinion of war changed?
I guess we all should have learned by now that preemptive wars just don’t render the results that justify their creation, and the blood and treasure they require.
10. How did your military experience shape your faith?
Military service made a believer out of me.