Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 13, 2013

A proud soldier who did it right way

Keith Kappes
The Independent

ASHLAND — My favorite soldier, like most other veterans, resented the anti-military, anti-American slogans and protests that divided our nation during the Vietnam years.

He had chosen to continue his military service after being discharged at the end of World War II.

He was fiercely proud of the uniform he wore and the flag he saluted each day while reporting to work at his hometown armory.

He struggled with the frustrations of trying to motivate certain young men who often were casual about their service in the National Guard.

It bothered him that some saw it only as a part-time job rather than an important military organization.

As someone who personally witnessed the horrors of war, he knew that being adequately trained and mentally prepared would increase a soldier’s odds of survival on the battlefield.

He insisted that his men look, act and think like soldiers, especially when they were in pay status.

He disliked the term “weekend warrior” because of the sacrifices of other citizen soldiers who didn’t come home from mobilization in 1940.

He was keenly aware that National Guard members were doubly at risk of going into harm’s way.

They are subject to state duty for natural disasters or civil unrest and for federal duty to reinforce active military in a national emergency.

His readiness philosophy was vindicated in the aftermath of 9/11, as tens of thousands of National Guard members and reservists were deployed to combat, some to be wounded or killed. In fact, his old unit is there now.

He was a “by the book” first sergeant, the ranking enlisted man often nicknamed “top soldier” or “top kick” by the troops.

He was the kind of man another soldier would want beside him when trouble started. He had been there before.

He never hesitated to correct a soldier’s mistakes but was just as strongly committed to making sure his troops were well fed, properly equipped and constantly informed.

His dark-eyed, piercing stare could silence a hundred noisy men when he conducted roll call and someone dared to talk while in his formation.

He soon will enter the 93rd year of his noble life of service to family, state and country. His duty station now is a nursing home.

I’ve told him many times of my respect and admiration for him and how much I value his friendship.

Given the chance, I’d be proud to return his salute one more time.  On second thought, I’d be mighty grateful for the privilege.

KEITH KAPPES is publisher of The Morehead News and Grayson Journal-Times.