Sid McCraw, a Trigg County native, served in the Air Force from 1965-1986 and served multiple tours in Vietnam from 1965-1973.
Today, they are both active members of American Legion Post 74 and join the rest of the country in celebrating Veterans Day.
“We’ve gotten more and more active in the community since I first joined,” Holmes said of the local Legion post. “We’ve got more members and more retirees who have moved in, and they’ve gotten us more active.”
Post 74 is part of the Honor Guard for Veterans West Cemetery in Hopkinsville. In addition to performing military rites there, Post 74 members also offer to attend funeral services for local veterans at other locations. Holmes said Post 74 was represented at approximately 100 funerals last year.
Members of Post 74 are also active in the Trigg County School System through various programs.
“Part of the American Legion charter is to be active in the community and promote Americanism, and we try to do that,” Holmes said.
Post 74 currently has around 100 members, Holmes said. Like many Legion Posts, the local post is active in youth activities like the summer baseball program, which historically has helped develop many future Major League Baseball players.
American Legion is also an active supporter of many organizations that help those with illnesses like cancer and heart disease.
The American Legion was originally formed in 1919 by veterans of World War I as a way to help those veterans.
“I think it’s important for people to realize what goes on,” Holmes said. “Realistically, Japan and Germany almost conquered the world. Now, we have little skirmishes all over the world. Soldiers deserve the recognition, and it’s good to see the American people standing behind them.”
McCraw has been a member of American Legion Post 74 for the last couple years and said he hopes to see the post push for more roads and bridges to be dedicated in honor and memory of local veterans.
“Name the bridges and roads after people that deserve to be remembered for decades,” McCraw said.
While soldiers in current American military action and veterans of most other foreign wars received accolades during and immediately after the end of their service, Vietnam veterans were not well received at home for many years, Holmes said.
“When I first came back in 1969, they were blaming soldiers for losing the war,” Holmes said. “It’s good to see patriotism coming back. I’ve had people thank me for my service, but we’re more used to dodging rocks, especially my generation.”
McCraw remembers a similar experience upon returning home from Vietnam.
“When we got out of Vietnam and we were coming home in Chicago, they threw eggs at our bus as we went by,” McCraw said. “When we got off, they called us baby killers. We were never appreciated for doing what we did for our country. Maybe the war wasn’t what it should have been, but we were serving the country no matter what. Only lately have they started appreciating us.”
Holmes said he has noticed since the 1990s that public sentiment toward Vietnam vets has turned positive.
“We were just doing what we were told to do,” Holmes said. “Policy was being made in Washington, and the team’s only as good as the coach. They didn’t take responsibility for bad choices and passed it down to us.”
While a recent homecoming at Fort Campbell was appreciated, McCraw said Vietnam vets still deserve something more.
“I feel my country owes me something for the 20-some years I put in,” McCraw said. “They owe me a decent homecoming. We had one at Fort Campbell a month ago, and it was alright, but there’s still something missing. We had to hide and not tell people we’d just come back from Vietnam.”
McCraw’s four children have each joined the military – Robin and Dan are in the Army, Richard is in the Navy, and Christopher is a Marine.
“It’s a whole family of veterans,” McCraw said.
McCraw said the United States’ current military actions if Afghanistan and Iraq are similar to the Vietnam War.
“I believe we’re there for politics like we were with Vietnam,” McCraw said. “They wouldn’t let the military fight in Vietnam the way the war needed to be fought, and that’s what’s happening now. Right now, it’s like taking a Volkswagen into a demolition derby.”
Having support back home is helpful to soldiers, McCraw said.
“It’s difficult to fight a war when not everyone believes in it,” McCraw said. “When they go over there and see the people we’re helping, they start to believe.”
McCraw said he’s sure the biggest drawback for current soldiers is probably the same one he experienced – being away from home.
“It’s not the thought of fighting in a war,” McCraw said. “I think every military man in the world would want to go fight in the war, but they don’t want to be away from their families. Six months at a time is OK, and that’s what we did in the Air Force. Going for a year, you’ll go crazy.”
The thought of having to return to combat when staying home is more attractive can lead to reactions like the one that left several people dead after a shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, McCraw said.
“That could happen any place at any time,” McCraw said. “That major didn’t want to leave his family, but nobody would listen to him. That’s going to happen more. Kids are growing up without their daddies and mommas. I don’t understand why he shot the people he did, but I understand what he was thinking about. His cause was that he didn’t want to go back again.”
While McCraw said he and other veterans are happy to see communities like Cadiz have parades on Veterans Day, smaller gestures sometimes mean more.
“Having the parade isn’t worth half as much as having someone come up, shake my hand and thank me for my service,” McCraw said. “I could count the number of times that had happened to me until the Iraq war started. Seeing the kids out there waving their flags is great, but it’s also great for people to show their appreciation personally.”
Receiving that personal gratitude makes the sacrifice worth it, McCraw said.
“I was doing something so everyone could do something else,” McCraw said. “If we sat back and let other nations railroad us, we wouldn’t have been strong enough for that.”