Americans should be thankful for - and proud of - the services offered by those who wear the uniforms of the United States' armed forces, retired Army Maj. Gen. Hank Stratman said Monday.
In a sometimes emotional speech during Memorial Day services at Jefferson City's National Cemetery, Stratman noted that U.S. armed forces often have been called to defend against forces that want to control other people - forces like the Soviet Union, Iraq's Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden and his radical Islamic effort to end American ideals with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the planned Sept. 11, 2001, attack.
"Within two hours" on that quiet September morning, Stratman said, "terrorists had murdered over 3,500 innocent civilians and hundreds of first responders, who ran toward the inferno to rescue survivors."
Stratman graduated from Lincoln University and its ROTC program in 1973, and was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant.
With the Vietnam War was beginning to wind down, the Army he joined was comprised mostly of draftees and was "poorly funded, with drug and racial problems and, worst of all, distrusted by the American people it served," he said.
"Through no fault of the service members, who fought valiantly at the tactical level in Vietnam, (it was) primarily the senior leaders who failed the nation at the strategic level during the 1960s."
Using valuable lessons from the way the Vietnam War was fought and lost, Stratman said, "Your armed forces slowly transitioned to an all-volunteer, educated, highly capable, professionally led and, most important, respected military force."
He served for 33 years, in a number of U.S. and overseas assignments, including combat deployments in Bosnia and the Middle East.
Stratman talked about "my generation of noble warriors, who answered the call to serve when it wasn't popular to be a service member. They soldiered on, through the good times and the bad - and always improving on the forces' readiness to respond to the nation's call to arms, ready to deploy worldwide, to deter aggression, to make or keep the peace or to defend an ally - causes all worth fighting for."
And, he said, always doing their jobs.
Decades after Vietnam, U.S. forces would work in the Middle East to end the al Quaeda and Taliban regimes in Afghanistan while also trying to end Hussein's grip on Iraq and its neighbors.
"Regardless if our national strategic interests in Afghanistan and Iraq were questionable, at best - your armed force have courageously conducted military operations in the Mid-East for over 13 years," Stratman reported, "suffering over 10,000 casualties, and many more life-altering injuries - while fighting insurgents and terrorists.
"They did this to enable democracy to take root in the Middle East."
While history will be the ultimate judge of "our presidents' decision to wage war with America's noble warriors," he said, "from my foxhole, this generation of volunteer service members has done us proud - under the most demanding circumstances!"
Monday's program included ceremony recognizing the 72 Mid-Missouri veteransm who died since Memorial Day 2013.
Stratman noted at the beginning of his speech that all veterans' service "has ensured the survival of this great country and inspired other nations to emulate our form of representative government, its civil liberties, freedoms and the rule of law."