A well-loved and already dearly missed local chronicler of the lives and deeds of veterans, News & Record columnist Harry Thetford, died in October at the age of 86.
“Each message is more like a memoir. Each is unique. Each is a piece of our nation’s history and heritage,” Thetford wrote in 2018. “The elephant in the room of each message is the same — mortality.”
So committed was Harry to preserving and sharing those stories that he dictated his final column, which was published Oct. 29, to his son, Harry Thetford Jr.
The senior Thetford, who himself served during peacetime as a Marine, devoted that last column to his beloved Corps, more specifically the rich traditions of Marine swords.
His stories brimmed with color and personality.
And they reminded us 12 months a year why today, in particular, matters so much.
Today is the day we pause to honor the military veterans who walk among us, men and women who sacrificed their safety and security to make sure we could all walk freely during the day and sleep soundly at night. Whether they fought decades ago in World War II or Vietnam or more recently in Syria or Afghanistan, they deserve our respect and appreciation for their service.
It’s not a day for fireworks or cookouts, but for sober reflection and appreciation. Military service calls dedicated men and women from all walks of life in America — and some from other countries — who serve regardless of race, religion, gender or economic circumstances. They teach us that those superficial characteristics don’t matter when we’re united for a worthy cause.
Many activities were held over the weekend to honor our veterans, including a ceremony Sunday at Guilford County Veterans Memorial in Country Park that was hosted by the Black Cap Veterans group. Among others in the area were programs at Rockingham County’s Veterans Park in Wentworth and a veterans parade in Madison that preceded a tribute at that community’s historic Town Clock.
Observances will continue today. As in years past, a ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. at the Carolina Field of Honor in Kernersville with color guards, music, the laying of the wreath and other commemorative activities. For more information, go to www.carolinafieldofhonor.org.
Some private businesses will honor the veterans in special ways. Many city, county, state and federal offices, as well as local schools, will be closed in their honor.
Despite the courage exhibited by our nation’s warriors — the greatest military force in history — too many of them have returned to the U.S. to find themselves beleaguered by unique difficulties.
Though they give their all, America has not always given enough in return. Veterans returning from war often bear the scars, physical, emotional and mental, of witnessing the worst depravities of mankind. Adjusting to civilian life can be difficult. Though the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VFW and volunteer groups offer resources, too many of our veterans have wound up unemployed, on the streets or victims of the opioid crisis that continues to ravage our communities.
Veterans also face higher levels of suicide — 1.5 times higher than that of the general population, according to information from Veterans Affairs. The causes vary, but include depression and other mental-health challenges.
We’re all more aware of these difficulties today and multiple organizations are working to reduce the numbers. One effort has been the creation of a Veterans Crisis Line — 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or text 838255.
There’s no shame in a warrior calling for reinforcements.
The least we can do today, each of us, is pause for that moment of reflection on the freedoms we take for granted, that in many cases were earned on the battlefield. More so, we can seek out the veterans we know to say, “Thank you for your service. I’m grateful.”
And let’s not forget them the rest of the year, either. Organizations like the Honor Flight Network, Operation Gratitude and the Wounded Warrior Project work hard for our veterans, month in and month out.
Harry Thetford, for whom celebrating veterans was “a special blessing,” put it well in one of his columns: “ ... (E)very Veterans Day should be celebrated to the fullest. Enjoy our veterans — not only for their service to our country, but for what they have done for our country after their service.
“And don’t wait for Memorial Day to memorialize those who did not come home. They gave their tomorrows for our todays.”
More inside: Read a reprint of Harry Thetford’s full column from 2018 on Page B4.
Read a reprint of Harry Thetford's full column from 2018 on Page B4.