To commemorate the first anniversary of the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1919, “Armistice” Day, now known as Veterans Day, was born. Below is a look at some of the local celebrations honoring those who have bravely served for our country, as well as some of their eye-opening experiences in the military.
Kelsey Lu, Jessica Li, Patricia Wei
On Nov. 9, Miller Middle School held its annual commemoration of Veterans Day, inviting around thirty local veterans to treats and refreshments, flag salutes, performances by Miller’s Advanced band and choir and the opportunity to share their military experiences with students.
Veterans and their families, current military personnel, sheriffs, local police and community members gathered together on the morning of Nov. 11 to witness the 11th annual Veterans Day ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in Memorial Park. To honor the ending of World War I at 11 a.m. on the same day in 1918, the ceremony, and many others across the country, began around the same time.
Overall, the commemoration paid tribute to veterans and their families, including Gold Star families — families of those who were killed in action. Through music arrangements by the Mountain View High School Madrigals choir, former Navy musician Kenneth Weir and several other performers, as well as the recognition of those who have served in the military and speeches from retired military service people, the city of Cupertino paid tribute to all its veterans.
The Cupertino Veterans Memorial at Memorial Park serves to commemorate and remember those who have been in the military but have since passed away. The main statue, “The Guardians,” honors two Navy SEALs, Matthew Axelson and James Suh from Cupertino, who bravely fought in Operation Red Wings, but ultimately lost their lives doing so. A 2013 film adaptation called “Lone Survivor” also documents the heroic actions of these men.
Stories of the Veterans
Robert Whitten is a local veteran who served as a Navy junior officer in the Korean War of 1950 to 1953. Despite the war having been decades ago, he narrates his time overseas in vivid detail and recounts his interactions with the brave men with whom he served. His ship was named for a marine awarded the Medal of Honor in WWII. He spoke to sixth graders at Miller Middle School.
Jack Friedman, one of the veterans also invited to speak at Miller Middle School, tells his story of being in the Air Force not fighting in combat overseas, but actually staying in the United States to supply Air Force personnel with resources to fight during the Vietnam, Iraqi and Afghanistan Wars. After retiring from the Air Force in 1988, Mr. Friedman’s time in the Air Force has influenced his next career, which involved airplanes and satellites at Northrop Grumman Incorporated. Jack retired from Northrop Grumman in 2011 and now devotes his time to volunteerism in the bay area. Here, he shares his experience in the military:
I joined the Air Force through ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corps, which is a program you take in college along with your normal college courses. After graduating with a degree in engineering in 1968, I immediately went into the United States Air Force. I had not intended to stay in the military for longer than 4 years, but I really liked my first job and the military jobs that were available to me in the future seemed like fun. For my first assignment, I spent four years building various kinds of satellites.
Let me backtrack and explain why I enrolled in the ROTC program. At the time, the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. The United States doesn’t draft people today – our military is an all-volunteer force, but that wasn’t true back in 1963. When I graduated high school, there was no question that I was going to be drafted, probably into the Army after graduation from college. I chose to join the Air Force through the ROTC program because I wanted to make the choice for my military service.
I wasn’t a pilot. Most of my time in the Air Force was spent working with people who designed and built equipment for airplanes.During my 20 years in the Air Force, all of my assignments were here is the United States. I had business trips out of the country but never lived anywhere but in the United States.
I think my wife and my two sons (in their forties now) all enjoyed the Air Force. They weren’t actually in the Air Force, but when you’re a military family, everyone thinks of themselves as being a part of the military. When you move away from home, you don’t have grandparents, parents and siblings to visit regularly, but when you’re in the military, your co-workers become your family. When you move, it’s the military family at your new assignment that embraces you as your family.
I retired from the Air Force in 1988 and my family moved out here [to the Bay Area], and I spent the next 25 years working for a company that builds equipment for military aircraft.I think military people have a hard job to do that’s not always fair, as people blame the military for what politicians decide to do.
People in the military were just like me, they just wanted to do the best job possible.
Miller, an ardent pacifist who was against the draft during the Vietnam War, shares his war experiences and thoughts on the Vietnam War. In the veterans community, he now serves as a member of the Veterans for Peace organization, through which he was able to go back to Vietnam, this time for an entirely different purpose than war.
I didn’t really choose to serve, I was drafted. This was a time when people were routinely drafted. If they weren’t in college or unless they had a health problem or something like that, they would be drafted. Males were drafted; females were not drafted at that time.
This was the time when they were bringing a lot more troops to go to Vietnam. This was the beginning of the Vietnam era. I was against it. I was against the war. I didn’t really want to be drafted, and I applied for conscientious objective status. People telling me to kill other people did not sit well with me, so I tried to get out I tried to make sure I had that status while I was in the military. I was trying to get into the Medics [department], to tell the truth, but I didn’t have any experience, so that didn’t help. I was young, 19 [years old], so I didn’t know a lot of the ropes on how to go through the ins and outs on how to [deal with the military] effectively, so I ended up going to Vietnam anyway, and I was in a petroleum Supply Company in the base area, so I saw very little combat and was not pushed to go and shoot anybody, which was good.
I was anxious to get out, that’s for sure. I’m grateful for getting out safely and not being in a situation where I had to kill people and get shoot at, so that was the best outcome.
There were some things that I learned just being in Vietnam, just seeing the beautiful country. It’s sad that [the war] was why we were there; we did so much destruction there.
Q: Have you been back to Vietnam?
One time, just to see it in a different situation. There wasn’t a lot of death and destruction going on all the time. I went back for the Veterans for Peace organization, which organizes annual tours to Vietnam. There’s a chapter that actually lives in Vietnam, and they look at the two main issues there: agent orange and its effects, as it was very destructive, with people still being born with birth defects generations later with genetic damage. They are trying to recover the land that have been destroyed by herbicides that have been spread over huge areas of the country. Just seeing how people are coping with that and trying to improve their lives in those situations. The other issue is the unexploded ordnances.
We dropped more military ordnances, which are bombs, artillery shells, and other weapons, in Vietnam, than was dropped in World War II by all sides. There were some areas that were totally blanketed with bombs.”
— Greg Miller
What happens is that a lot of these bombs don’t go off immediately; there are just sitting there in the ground. If you come up to them, touch them, or disturb them, however, they will go off. Many people have lost their arms, legs and lives as a result. Sometimes, they even go off without touching anything. If the [Vietnamese] want to live in an area, they have to create sort of a grid step-by-step using metal detectors to find these [unexploded ordnances] in the ground, remove them safely so that the land can be used, and they have to educate the young people on them. Since metal is something you can sell and get money from, especially young kids think that these [unexploded ordnances] might be toys or something, so there is a whole education program going on to warn the kids not to touch that stuff. Again, this is a whole other thing that they have been burdened with in Vietnam since the war. Here we are, 50 years later, still coping with that. Anyway, [my trip back to Vietnam] was very good to just see people and meet people in a more friendly way. We had translators and all, so that was good, because we didn’t have that when we were there before, so it was a great opportunity.
Kenneth Weir, a professional bugle and trumpet player who used to tour with a selective band on Navy ships across the world performing at concerts, military ceremonies and funerals. Every year, he contributes his trumpet-playing talent and performs the traditional song “Taps” at the Memorial Park Veterans Day ceremony.
Navy musicians are supposed to play for military ceremonies, foreign dignitaries and at memorial services and things like that. Right after boot camp in 1969, I went to the Navy School of Music. I had to do the training as a sailor to do the military education, along with playing in bands to improve my musicianship.
Kelsey Lu, Patricia Wei
To be a Navy musician, you have to read music, audition and pass the audition with at least a 3.5. I did that, and a year later, I was assigned to what is called a unit band, which is comprised of about 15 people in a big jazz band, the reason being that they couldn’t have too many big bands in the Navy ships because they were rather crowded. We were assigned the United States ship “JFK,” an aircraft carrier. We went over to the Mediterranean for a cruise of about three months – that was about 1970. In 1971, we returned to our port in Norfolk, Virginia, and we played for local parades there, in Downtown Norfolk, Virginia Beach and other places. We played for concerts, whenever people requested for us to play at, sometimes schools, we played at a little elementary school once, I remember. Then we just practiced with the band because there were five bands, and three were out at sea at a time; two were house bands just to cover the military things [in America]. While I was in the school of music, I qualified as the section four bugler. There were only four sections. My responsibility was to play what they call the “Morning Colors,” which is equivalent to the “Star Spangled Banner,” on weekends, if we had our duty. Then I would play the “evening colors,” which was to retire the colors when the flag went down. Apart from that, there were many military people who were either killed in Vietnam or died naturally. I was required to play “Taps” for them. As a part of the Navy and all of the armed forces, when a person dies, he/she is given the flag in a tri-fold and honor guard. Sometimes they will have the six gun salute that they will fire three times in a total of eighteen rounds to honor the person who died at the casket. As soon as those eighteen rounds are delivered, then the bugler plays “Taps” like I did today. I had a number of responsibilities
My first cruise was to the Mediterranean. We went to about nine different countries, and then about a year later, there was another band there, but they were short of trumpet players, so the chief conductor of the band requested that somebody do what the Navy calls TAD (Temporary Assigned Duty). So I was in that band, which went to the North Atlantic, and I saw about four or five European countries. We did the same thing, playing concerts for the civilian people. We did what they call change of command ceremonies. When a commander changes his station, then we played to honor the new commander and the outgoing commander with marches and ceremonies.
My ship was the USS Intrepid. She was the World War II aircraft carrier. She survived all those years and many coming attacks. They retired her, so if you ever go to New York Harbor, she is a floating museum there. They never scrapped her. The Navy has a habit of, when a ship is too old, they scrap her and use her for razor blades or construction materials – it’s kind of sad – but, in the case of the Intrepid, they honored her. We all call ships in the Navy “her,” because we feel very sensitive to womankind and ladies. So she is now a living museum in New York Harbor. My last ship, they made into a museum. The Kennedy I think is still around, but I’m not sure, because it’s been forty years since I got out of the Navy.
I do this for the veterans – all those fellow servicemen who didn’t come home (I’m of the Vietnam era from 1969-1973, the Vietnam War ended in 1975) – I play this for them. I play it for the ones who were killed and the statue [of Matthew Axelson and James Suh]. Since I was in the Navy, I’m kind of partial toward the SEAL teams.
Our band played a concert at some concert hall in Spain. They had warned us, that if the Spanish didn’t like us, they would boo. Luckily, one of the guys in the band spoke Spanish, so he introduced us and we played for them, and they were very appreciative. That was the first time in my life that I had played for a foreign audience. So they was a little bit of booing, but I guess people’s parents hushed them up, because they knew we were American Navy musicians who didn’t know that if you didn’t play or sing perfectly they would boo a little bit. I was happy about that, and they gave us a big round of applause in that auditorium, and that was our PR work for the Navy overseas in a place called Barcelona, Spain.