In chapel, in celebration of Veterans Day this year, three faculty veterans shared their experiences in the military with our students in hopes of honoring those who have served and to raise awareness of the sacrifices they made to serve our country.
Mr. Nate Meleo ’95 opened with a brief history of Veterans Day and after welcomed the remarks of Mr. Paul Salit and Dr. Karl Kistler. Meleo later returned to the podium to share his own remarks and close out the service.
Below are the remarks of Mr. Meleo and Dr. Kistler. Because Mr. Salit spoke from notes rather written remarks, we were unable to include his full remarks, though he echoed the themes of sacrifice and duty, respect and thanks for all our Veterans. Please enjoy the full remarks of Mr. Meleo and Dr. Kistler below.
Opening Remarks by Nate Meleo ’95
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, a ceasefire was signed to end hostilities in the “war to end war”, the Great War, now known as World War I. In four years of the worst fighting the world had ever seen at that point, over 9 million combatants lost their lives in service of their respective countries. One yea
r later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that November 11th would forever after be recognized as “Armistice Day” and commemorate Americans who fought in that Great War when their nation, and the world, came calling.
In 1938, the day was officially made a federal holiday by Congress, and, after the Second World War and war in Korea, the name was ultimately changed to “Veterans Day” to honor veterans of all wars throughout the nation’s history.
Today is Veterans Day. Yes, it is a time often marked to give thanks to all who have served, but perhaps more importantly, to also reflect on the nature of war, military service itself, and why it might be worthy of gratitude. As we sit here at Tabor Academy, it can be easy to feel disconnected from the military and those who have donned the uniform throughout history. But if you look closely, you will see that we are more connected to veterans of the past, present, and future, than we might realize. Veterans are all around us, and yet quite often we know nothing of their military pasts and what they were a part of. Some of you in this room will go on to military service for your nation. Many...many former Seawolves have served in the armed forces after graduating, through several different eras.
If I may, I would draw your attention to the rear of the chapel where Tabor's service flag hangs. Commissioned in 2017, the stars on the flag represent alumni who have served, the gold stars indicated those in that group who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving. These Seawolves served with honor, and will forever be a part of the legacy of service and this school.
Also, throughout history, Tabor has had numerous faculty members who once wore the uniform before entering a different career and landing at Tabor to teach. For me during my time at Tabor, there were names like Roller, Duffy, Cobbold, Vaughan, Bidstrup, Perez to name a few. They are among us today as well. These veteran faculty members often don’t bring up their military time in the normal course of the teaching day. Like so many though, they are proud of their service and humble in their accomplishment. But their paths are uncommon, and experiences in uniform, however brief, stay with them throughout their lives and help guide and shape who they are. Today, we will hear from the current faculty members who have served in the United States Military, Mr. Salit, Dr. Kistler, and me. Absent today, but in our gratitude is also Mr. Pardo, who served in the United States Army.
Personal Reflections by Dr. Karl Kistler:
I served in the US Army Reserves in an era when much less was asked of the average service member than is often asked today. Most of my service was in a pattern of one weekend a month and a few weeks during the summer for training. However, I served alongside others who had done or would go on to do much more. I’d like to share a story that taught me about the mindset and insight that can be found with uniformity in our armed services.
There was a time, at the turn of the century, when the country was deeply divided politically. It’s hard to imagine, I know. But, in fact, the year 2000 presidential election was so close, that for five weeks, we didn’t know who had won.
At the time I was part of a quartermaster battalion in Arkansas. Our mission was to provide supplies for troops should they need to operate in the middle east. Our unit’s officers sat together for a dinner at the end of our monthly drill, shortly after the election had finally been decided and President-Elect Bush had begun to name his cabinet.
Our commander, who had served in what may now be called the First Gulf War, mulled over the names of the new administration. “Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld,” he counted aloud, names that to him meant unfinished business in what we called Southwest Asia.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he declared, “this time next year, we’ll have this dinner at Camp Doha.”
With this simple statement, the colonel had not only made a hauntingly accurate prediction (Camp Doha was our base of operations in the Middle East) but set a tone that is easier to describe by what it lacked.
There was no eagerness in his voice. He was a soldier who had been to war and knew its costs.
But neither was there bitterness in his voice. If our country...the mission... called for it, we’d better be ready to do our duty.
On Veteran’s Day we honor those who have answered this call to duty, honor, and country, those who take time away from their families, and sometimes risk their lives to defend all of us. Take some time to thank them.
Personal Reflections by Mr. Nate Meleo ’95:
I, Nathan Meleo, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
I first took this oath in September of 1995, three months after graduating from Tabor. Coming from a family of military veterans, I thought I knew what it all meant, and what service would be like. And like most 18-year-olds, life had a lot to teach me. Now, 24 years after that oath was given, and having just retired from the military, I can also confidently say that life still has a lot to teach me.
So, I wanted to take a moment today to talk about the word “sacrifice” and how it relates to serving in the military in particular. Sacrifice is often spoken about on days like Veterans Day and Memorial Day, but usually thrown in with slogans or words like duty, honor and country in one big patriotic salute. And then the day is done, and we all go back to doing what we do. My hope is to provide some points of reflection and perspective; for you to think about in the context of your own lives and what it means to give up things in service to something you believe in.
Service to my country, for me, has mean sacrificing many things, from small to large. First the small stuff…when I signed up, I gave up being able to have even remotely longish hair or growing facial hair for any length of time (which as you can see I’m now out there and loving it ...watch out, Omar). My dress code consisted of camouflage, woodland or desert, or one of three combinations of blues uniform. Shoes had to be shiny. Nothing but authorized pieces of flair. I also gave up free speech in a lot of ways. Yes, that’s right, and a bit of an irony given my oath. I no longer could say what I wanted, especially in public, as we are not allowed to speak ill of people up the chain of command, including the president, and not allowed to participate in political activities. The people need to know we serve the People, not any person or party. Other small sacrifices include eating bugs, sleeping in the freezing cold, working until physical exhaustion or injury, lack of sleep, all when told to do so and usually at very inconvenient times. In retrospect though, a lot of that was also a lot of fun.
Some other sacrifices, maybe a bit more broad in scope: I had to go where I was told to go, when I was told to go there. I served and traveled to places all over, whether I wanted to be there or not: Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, North Dakota, Missouri. I was away from my family for long periods of time, there was a time I was traveling three weeks out of every month and barely knew where my next destination was, and times I was in the cargo bay of aircraft with my feet freezing because at altitude, there wasn’t much heat and it was a 13-hour flight to get where we needed to get to. Those days, I missed out on a lot at home, birthdays, graduations, life events. I grew apart from my own sisters. Even working here, and being in the Reserve, I did the math and figured out I missed over 300 days of my daughters’ lives in weekends alone. There were times I was homesick and/or afraid, and just wanted relief. Sacrifices.
And lastly, there are the sacrifices made that are giving up ourselves in ways we might never fully realize. Maybe even sacrificing a bit of our humanity. Being a part of wars on behalf of the nation, reconciling with things we have been a part of, seeing folks we serve alongside hurt or killed or seeing devastation first hand. I was part of a combat unit that dropped a lot of bombs, I was part of that. Some of us have lasting physical injuries or afflictions. There are those who are killed giving their last full measure of devotion in sacrifice. I think of them often.
There is a phrase or metaphor often associated with military service. It speaks to writing a blank check to your country. The blank check is appropriate, because when we take the oath, we don’t actually know what we are going to sacrifice, and to what extent. Some gave all, all gave some. You relinquish part of yourself, in service, and that sacrifice is pretty uncommon. I ask you all today to reflect on your own lives and the nature of sacrifice. For what you believe, is it worth it?
Was serving worth it for me? I can’t speak for all veterans. For me, the answer is absolutely.
Happy Veterans Day.