Each year veterans, family, and friends gather at the brick Memorial Walkway in front of the Highlands Police Department on Veterans Day to honor all of those who have served their country. Twice a year new bricks are installed with the names of veterans on them recognizing their service.
Several veterans were present on Monday, including Ret. Army Col. Michael Mattia who served as a dentist in the Delta, 1st Medical Battalion from 1967-68 during the Vietnam War. He said after being deployed just north of Saigon, life was full of surprises.
“Expect the unexpected,” said Mattia. “Anything you imagine it would be like, it’s not. What was difficult for me was the number of wounded we had to treat. But I’ll never forget the people I served with and those who couldn’t be here with us today, those guys who didn’t come home.”
Ret. Army Griffin Bell was at Monday’s ceremony and served in the Artillery Battalion Fire Direction Office supporting other combat units in Vietnam with artillery fire from 1965-67.
“You can’t make a mistake,” said Bell. “Ever hear of friendly fire, you can’t have that.”
Bell had a secondary duty as an Aerial Forward Observer, meaning he would hop into a small plane and search for the enemy.
“We’d fly in a bird dog, with one seat in front of the other and go 60 mph just above the treetops looking for the enemy,” said Bell. “We’d get shot at sometimes, but up there you wouldn’t always know. Those guys on the ground, they had it so bad. 28 days in the bush, change of uniform every two weeks, no hot meals, they had it rough.”
Ret. U.S. Coast Guard Bill Edwards maintained navigation aids as a Fixed-Station Technical Controller between Miami and Key West, Fla., from 1970-73. He said one of the hardest things for him during his service was leaving his family.
“The difficult part is you’re leaving your wife and your loved ones, and you’re going to a place that could be anywhere, you could be in Thailand, and you’re just thrown into a whole other world,” said Edwards.
Commander of American Legion Post 370, Ed McCloskey spoke to those in attendance, along with Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor.
“You don’t stop serving your country when you take off the uniform,” said Taylor. “You continue to serve throughout your life after the military. You learn from your experiences and you grow stronger, and you always continue to serve this country.”