One hundred years ago on Nov. 11, our nation observed the first Armistice Day — the precursor to what we now celebrate as Veterans Day.
Just a year earlier, at 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns fell silent across the battlefields of Europe. Just hours before, the carnage of war had raged on, as millions of men and women struggled on behalf of their countries.
Lake Mills High School heard from one of the many veterans who make our country, our state and our community the free place where we live, work and play, Brig. Gen (Ret.) Kerry G. Denson, Monday.
“Today we remember those veterans who have served. Many of those veterans are your friends and family. Some of those veterans were sitting here just four years ago, people like Grant Lira,” Denson said.
Lira, a graduate of Lake Mills High School, serves in the Wisconsin Army Air National Guard and is finishing college.
“He’s ready to deploy any place in the world, at a moment’s notice,” Denson said. “Every unit in the National Guard has served in combat at least once in the last several years.”
Lira joined the Guard when he was a senior in high school and is following in the citizen solider footsteps of many who have gone before him.
“It goes all the way back to our own Revolutionary War, when farmers and merchants who belonged to the militia were called up at a moment’s notice.”
“Today in the United States we have about 18 million veterans,” Denson said. “Our oldest living combat veterans are those who served during World War II. We also have combat veterans from Korea, Vietnam, Dessert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as smaller combat events throughout the world.”
Denson said today wars are longer and more complicated.
“The last war the United States fought with a Congressional Declaration of War with the US military fighting another nation’s uniformed military force with a clear victory ending with a treaty was World War II.”
Korea did not have a Congressional Declaration of War and there was only a truce and not a victory. The truce still stands today.
“Technically the war never ended. Each side remains at a faceoff on their side of the demilitarized zone, separating North and South Korea.”
The Vietnam War ended when the US pulled out.
Denson said the enemy in other wars the US has fought have been clear.
“In World War II we fought against Nazism, fascism and imperialism. In Korea and Vietnam, we fought against Communism. Today we are fighting against terrorism.”
The War on Terror isn’t against another country.
“We are fighting an idea, a bad one, an idea that finds itself in many countries. It’s an idea that can move around the world at the speed of light with the internet and social media.”
The United States has been fighting terrorism with military force for about 18 years and Denson said the students in the room have never known a world where the US hasn’t been fighting the War on Terror. He said terrorism is not a war that will end with military force but when people are educated enough to stand up to terrorism.
“Terrorism will end with what I call the two ‘Es,’ education and economics.”
Many of the countries terrorist recruit from have employment rates of up to 50% for young people.
“These youth have no hope, they see no future. The terrorists blame the situation on the western powers Europe and the United States,” Denson said. “Afghanistan has a whole generation without any education, the Taliban has had the country under its control for almost 40 years and closed all the schools.”
Denson said the only people who go to war are those who have nothing to lose. He suggested that if the youth recruited by the terrorists had jobs and could support their family they could not be recruited.
“When will terrorism end? Not for a long time,” he said. “Until those countries have received education and economy we are forced to use military force as a blocking action for our own safety and security,” he said.
Denson, served in the military for more than 40 years, he was drafted in Dec. 1965 and volunteered for pilot training graduating March 14, 1967 and reported to his unit in Vietnam. His assignments included two combat tours in Vietnam as a pilot and was a flight instructor between tours in Georgia.
After active duty Denson came back to Wisconsin and joined the Army Air National Guard. He had a variety of assignments including being Commander of 147 Attack Helicopter Battalion and Director of Aviation and Safety for the Wisconsin Army National Guard. Denson has been given numerous awards including the Silver Star and Purple Heart.
“We do truly appreciate all that our veterans do for all of us,” Denson said. “It’s because of them we can gather here on this cold Wisconsin morning, in this auditorium in Lake Mills, Wisconsin feeling safe.”