As a veteran, I know the reasons we serve are as varied as the men and women who serve and have served in the U. S. Armed Forces. I’ve met World War II veterans and those who currently serve — some were drafted and some volunteered. I’ve met Medal of Honor recipients and really awesome Food Service Specialists. I’ve met veterans of different ages, colors, disabilities, genders, and religions. However, how to justly articulate the “Why We Serve” for my many military comrades has escaped me.

Initially, the thought was to articulate the “why” in response to the now universal greeting, “Thank you for your service.” Another thought was to explain the “why” through the oath all veterans take to solemnly swear (or affirm) to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Another idea was to interview several veterans from diverse backgrounds and summarize their ‘whys” in writing.

Then, at 7 a.m., Sat., Nov. 9, 2019, my aunt called to invite me to an 8:30 a.m. Lovely Ladies Social Club of Ridgeville Veterans Day breakfast. My uncle, former U.S. Marine and my mentor was being honored for his service to the community. During that breakfast, the text for this “Why We Serve” article was revealed to me by way of the following two original poems by 79-year-old Bessie M. F. Simmons. So, it is through her poetic prose (and with her permission), that I hope you experience a glimpse of “Why We Serve.”

“May the Flag Forever Fly” by Bessie M. F. Simmons, Summerville, SC (written in 1968 after watching an American flag burning on TV):

May the flag forever fly high and show its colors proudly.

May the color RED remind us of the blood the brave shed to give this land freedom.

May the color WHITE remind us of the young dreamer that wishes their dreams come true.

May the color BLUE remind us of the old with memories of the love and pains they gave to build this country.

May the STARS remind us of unity that we may live together in harmony.

May the POLE remind us of the strong that fought to defend this country.

May the FLAG forever fly high to remind us, so we will not let the blood that was shed be in vain, or the dreams of the young be just dreams, nor the memories of the old fade away.

May we open our hearts as wide as the wings of an eagle, and let a little love in as hate flows out.

May the flag remind us that no man needs to go without freedom, no child needs to go hungry for food or education, no sick needs to go without medical care, and the old need not be lonely in this great country of ours.

I pray that the Lord will send a special blessing on the country that I love…and may the flag forever fly high to remind us what this country stands for.

“The Wall of Tears” by Bessie M. F. Simmons, Summerville, SC (written in 1991 after watching a news report on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on a rainy day):

So proud you stand with the names of the engraved, that bring tears to love ones, as they look upon your face.

I saw you cry today, but you said it was the rain.

I sweetly heard you moan, as loved ones gently touch the names.

You are the Wall of Tears that helps ease the pains.

As I stood near you, I heard you whisper to the dead, “you have given your life in Vietnam, serving your country as you were told, so with no shame, let your names shine on this black wall as the stars do at night.”

Be proud, my brothers and sisters, you were the obedient Americans that went to the call of the USA. You gave your best, so take your rest, and may the tears of the wall no longer fall.

Oh, Wall of Tears, I saw you cried today, but you said it was rain.

You can visit DAV.org, Objectivezero.org or VA.gov for more information on how you can support veterans.

Tim Lewis of Harleyville is a workforce learning and performance consultant, USMC veteran, and advocate for community transformation and innovation. He can be reached at timlewis75@gmail.com.