What if your nation sent you to war, and when you came back, no one except your immediate family and friends noticed that you had been gone?
For thousands of men and women who have served in both Iraq wars and Afghanistan, that is all too often the case.
Add to that number the veterans of the Korean War--often called the "Forgotten War"--and the Vietnam War, when veterans came home to anger associated with disillusionment about the war, and there is a powerful incentive to set controversy aside and take a moment to just say "thank you" to the men and women who served so that we and our children might be free.
Veterans fought so that we might be free. Here a veteran shares a moment with his children at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Makawao.
That's exactly what Maui County veterans have decided to do. They are currently planning a thank you parade for Maui's veterans on Saturday, Nov. 10, along Kamehameha Ave., from 10 a.m. to noon, from the University of Hawai'i Maui College campus to the War Memorial Stadium.
Chelsea Fernandez, a 28-year-old mother of three, served a tour of duty in Iraq as a driver, carpenter and mason.
"I was in the second rotation," she responded when asked about her service. "So we came in after the initial invasion."
What she doesn't say is that during that time period, Iraq was spinning out of control into a virtual civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslim factions, and both were targeting Americans with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) intended for foot patrols and trucks--trucks like Fernandez drove.
Now, along with Ed Gazmen, she is helping to coordinate planning for the parade. "I want to honor the older veterans from Korea and Vietnam," she said, "and let them know that they will never be forgotten."
"I have been to war myself, so I know what they went through," said Fernandez.
Part of the reason Fernandez is involved is to help send a message about veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, a new and younger group.
"We are not the same as other veterans," she said. "We have had different experiences and people need to be more aware of our issues."
The parade-planning group has been meeting for over a month, and plans are coming into focus; the final details still to be put in place.
All veterans are invited to participate in the parade, and the general public is encouraged to attend.
The committee hopes that active-duty members of the armed forces on O'ahu will send units to participate, and discussions have been initiated to have a possible fly-over of F-22 Blackhawk jets.
The parade emcees are Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez (this article's author) and Kellie Pali-Cruz, the hosts of the Maui Breakfast Club on KNUI AM 900, Monday through Friday, from 7 to 9 a.m. The Maui Breakfast Club is helping to sponsor the parade.
It was during an interview on the radio show with Paul Laub, president of the Maui County Veterans Council, that the idea of a parade was raised during a discussion about Mainland communities that were beginning to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with locally organized parades.
Laub saw the need for a parade and took it to the Maui County Veteran's Council for discussion and to see if there was a desire for the event. After consideration by the council, the idea was endorsed and planning began.
Royal Vida served with the Army in Korea. Asked why he supports a thank you parade, he said, "We feel like we are forgotten people. A lot of times, when things are done, they forget the Korean veterans. The parade will be a special day--a good day. Everyone should feel welcome on that day."
The parade is beginning to bring together veterans who have been on the sidelines since their return.
Linda Martin, a Vietnam era veteran, served in the Army from 1961 to 1964. She had read about the parade in The Maui News and decided it was time to get involved.
"I was in Germany, but because I was in the Signal Corps, I saw the messages and we knew what was going on in Vietnam," she said.
"A lot of Vietnam veterans did not come home to a happy place," Martin said. "People did not like them very well. I think now is the time to give them some recognition, too."
Perhaps parade organizer and public relations committee member Martin Hopsing Coon summed it up best when asked why this parade should be held.
"Kids today need to know why they have what they have," said Hopsing. "It will be a big, emotional, huge parade--just the way it's supposed to be. It's really for everybody. Everybody needs to know why we have our freedom."