Greta Samwel: LOCAL COLUMN: Veterans -- it's all about service

Nov. 10—Saturday is Veterans Day — a day that has special meaning for me. It was my privilege to serve this country, and an honor to meet some special people along the way.

I'm going to mention a few names — some you'll recognize, most you won't — to tell a tale of service that extends beyond assignments, and deployments to various parts of the world. First though, a little about my family.

My father served in the Navy during World War II. He was a sonar operator on the USS Spry, which was a corvette (very small ship, obtained from Great Britain as a part of Lend-lease). The Spry performed convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic; the ship was like a cork tossed in violent seas. I had three uncles who served in the infantry in Europe during that war. My aunt was an officer in the Womens Army Corps and led the first contingent of women (non-nurses) to the European theater.

My wife's father served in the Army — Coast Artillery prior to WWII, in the Transportation Corps during that conflict, and then further service in Korea. My brother was an Air Force veteran from Vietnam (later, a victim of exposure to Agent Orange, he passed away at age 40). My wife, Joan, was an Air Force nurse (and true to her calling, she's been there for me for 57 years). My oldest son served an enlisted tour with the Marines and is now an officer in the Oklahoma National Guard, with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan on his service record.

I attended OU during a time when ROTC was mandatory, and the draft was still in effect. I joined the Air Force, fully intending on leaving as soon as my commitment was up. I ended up serving 26 years. Along the way, I met — and was inspired by — a number of individuals. My first assignment was as a squadron commander at Amarillo Air Force Base (long since closed).

My first boss was a fellow named Romeo Rodriguez Garcia. In an environment where egos were on display, he taught me the meaning of "we." It was more important for the unit to succeed; individual laurels were secondary. Our squadron's First Sergeant was John Pershing Marrs. If ever someone's name invoked military tradition, it was his. He had been at Schofield Barracks when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and later served in the Battle of the Bulge in Europe — but John was a gentle soul, focused on mentoring the junior enlisted personnel in our organization.

I left Amarillo for other assignments, including Strategic Air Command (SAC) Headquarters and the Pentagon. In both locations, I had the honor to know and serve with Chief Master Sergeant Gerald McCoy. He was the senior enlisted advisor to the Commander-in-Chief, SAC, in Omaha, and the senior enlisted advisor to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force at the Pentagon.

I knew him at church — where he humbly served in whatever capacity necessary to help members of the congregation.

Another person of my acquaintance at the Pentagon was Father Shea — who happened to be a Major General, Chief of Chaplains for the Army. His office was near to mine, and we would sometimes jog together at noon. Father Shea was all about people. When his Army tour ended, he retired to a job as parish priest in Billings, Montana — where he could further serve those in need.

When I completed by time at the Pentagon (and some additional years working for an aerospace contractor in Washington), my wife and I returned to Norman.

Here, I've renewed some acquaintances and made new friends — some of them veterans — who continue to serve. For example, my friend Dave Clark (Army, Vietnam) works at the Veterans Corner, assisting those seeking to apply for veteran's benefits.

My friend Mike Gent (Army, Vietnam) works with the Saint Vincent de Paul Society at a local church — providing short-term financial relief to those in need; my friend Ed Castillo (Air Force, Vietnam) works at Will Rogers Airport— assisting personnel going to/from Fort Sill; my friend Jim Davenport (Army, Vietnam) worked for years assisting those in need via the Disabled American Veterans organization. And on the subject of veterans helping veterans, there's Eric Grubbs at the local American Legion Post; he and fellow Legionnaires provide counseling to vets in need.

There are numerous volunteers in service at the Dale Graham Veterans Center. My friend Dave Grizzle (Emergency Operations at the Norman Fire Department) recently told me of an initiative Envision Success — aka: "Veterans Helping Veterans" to raise money to provide a gaming room for veterans, and to provide computer support for those in need. (They have a fund raiser tonight at 6:30; Lazy Circles Brewery.) and while I've mentioned a few names — I can't forget the large number of first responders who have served/are serving. The list goes on; the theme: service.

On Sunday, Norman will celebrate with a parade and program dedicated to veterans. My friend Roger Gallagher (Army helicopter pilot, Vietnam) spends a lot of time during the year — along with other veterans — to make this event happen. They too embody the notion of service. I'll be there on Sunday, honoring them — and all veterans. I hope to see you there.