Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering sophomore and Mustang News conservative columnist. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Ian Billings/Mustang News

Take time once in a while to actually talk to one of our veterans while you thank him or her. Their story may just engulf you in emotion or enlighten you on a different view of our history.

Eric Stubben
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Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering sophomore and Mustang News conservative columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.

During the past week, we’ve been inundated with hundreds of ads all over television, the Internet and radio reminding us to “thank our veterans.” While it’s an important message to send to the American people, perhaps the more important question to ponder is, “Why do we thank our veterans?”

Throughout our school years, we learn about the heroics of famous soldiers and famous battles such as Normandy, Iwo Jima and Midway. We reviewed famous generals, moments and milestones, but rarely did we examine the common soldier himself. Soldiers came from every different background imaginable. However, most left behind families, schools, friends and careers to fight for our country.

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to interview an African-American Vietnam veteran. He was a young student at Louisiana State University during the Vietnam War when he was drafted into the Army. As a 19-year-old physics student, he was caught off guard when the draft card appeared in his mailbox. Though he was a relatively quiet student with a 3.5 GPA, he had lost his “2S” college deferment status and was soon shipped across the country and eventually overseas.

That got me thinking.

What if going on academic probation at Cal Poly didn’t just mean you had one quarter to get your grades back up?

What if academic probation made you eligible to be thrown in the line of fire in a war you never even supported?

What if graduating in three years wasn’t an accomplishment to celebrate, but a free pass for the military to rip you from your family, friends and future career?

What if the Central Coast wasn’t just your home, but your training ground, where you woke up before dawn and went to sleep after sundown while your drill instructors constantly tested your physical and emotional strength?

Though the brutalities of war and drafts have lingered since the founding of our country, we must also look at the positives that have emerged from war and thank our veterans for those positives.

The war in Vietnam came at the height of the Civil Rights movement and at the end of segregation. For the first time, American military units were desegregated and all races fought alongside each other. During my interview with the Vietnam veteran, he told me something that really shocked me: He believed the war in Vietnam helped cure racial tensions in America.

“The military gave us common energy. The enemy was the fear. It generated self-camaraderie. Polar opposite civilians were now buddies. It helped calm racism and dissolved racial polarities,” he told me.

I’ve asked several Vietnam veterans to confirm that opinion for me, and every single one has agreed.

During World War II, it wasn’t necessarily our soldiers who directly contributed to the improvement of life back home, but their families. Women and military-ineligible men labored to meet the demands of rations, ammunition and machinery needed to maintain the war. When our soldiers finally returned home, they were greeted by an America that had dug its way out of the Great Depression and was on the path to economic success. Our veterans used skills learned overseas to contribute to the economy and allow it to ride a wave of success that lasted for decades.

Today’s soldiers and veterans may not be able to solve national issues like healthcare reform, debt or recession, but they fight a fight as difficult as any our country has ever seen. As they fight unethical and win-at-all-costs Islamic militants in the extreme climates of the Middle East, they fight for an American national security that has been changed forever. Since 9/11, America cannot afford to function without soldiers across the world. As easy as it is to try to wipe out the pain of 9/11, the all-too-real threat of another attack on America must support our troops in protecting our national security.

All too often, we decide a simple thought or a “thank you” to our troops is enough. We lump them into groups — Vietnam veterans, World War II veterans, Korean War veterans — without realizing each soldier or veteran has their own story, their own identity. Take time once in a while to actually talk to one of our veterans while you thank him or her. Their story may just engulf you in emotion or enlighten you on a different view of our history.

A thank you to our veterans is more than just simple thanks to each veteran for dedicating part of their life to defend our ancestors and ourselves.

A thank you to our veterans is for leaving behind the “what could have been” in their lives to protect America from the “what could be” evils of the world.

A thank you is for helping our country strive past racial barriers and leap into economic success.

A thank you is for protecting the basis of our entire democracy, protecting our freedoms and allowing all Americans to feel safe inside their own country.

A thank you is for everything our great country has to offer.

So to our soldiers and our veterans, thank you. Thank you for everything.

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