November 10, 2010

A time to remember our veterans

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer
What is a veteran? A veteran is any person who has served in the armed forces. A veteran can be a person who has seen combat or a person who has served only in peacetime. Either way, Veterans Day is a chance for Americans to salute all of our veterans.
Former Watford City resident and retired United States Navy Commander, Michael Konkel, believes our veterans deserve our deepest appreciation. 
“Veterans Day is the national holiday specifically focused on honoring our veterans both living and deceased,” says Konkel. “As Americans, we often take for granted the wonders of our country and the freedoms we enjoy as citizens. The cost, in human terms, of maintaining our collective freedom has been huge. In each conflict, and even in peacetime service, our nation’s young people effectively write a blank check payable to Uncle Sam in the amount of ‘up to and including their life.’ Some of these checks are cashed in full.”
For Konkel, joining the armed forces was about getting an education while serving his country.
“My upbringing and education in Watford City had instilled in me a desire to serve and the requisite tools to succeed,” adds Konkel. “The coverage of the Vietnam War convinced me that I should look at all the options. I viewed the Navy as a training opportunity and the GI Bill as a means to achieve a college education after my service. As it turned out, I demonstrated potential in my enlisted training and was selected for a naval scholarship. This led to a commission as a Naval Officer, entry into the Submarine Force and a career I never expected.”
What Konkel describes as a chance to serve his country and a means of going to college, turned into a 24-year career on Navy submarines and shore assignments during the Cold War.
The Cold War was a decades-long struggle for global supremacy that pitted the capitalist United States against the communist Soviet Union.
“My position with the Navy was highly technical” adds Konkel. “Our job was to stay at sea and be ready to launch at a moment’s notice. A key component of the Cold War, our submarines are engineering marvels. They can stay at sea for months at a time, never being detected and then, at a moment’s notice, they can reach out and touch our enemies. My days in the Navy involved the training of the sailors and the operation/maintenance of the ship’s systems.”
Konkel may have retired from the Navy, but our veterans are never far from his thoughts.
“I spend a lot of time looking for military baseball caps,” says Konkel. “If I see someone wearing one, I approach them and thank them for their service to our country and often-times we strike up an enlightening conversation.
It doesn’t matter if you agree with the politics of any conflict, what matters is, that you support our young men and women fighting for this great country we live in.”
Not everyone knows a veteran or feels comfortable approaching strangers, but according to Konkel, there are many ways to show your support to past and present veterans.
“Veterans Day is about honoring all veterans, living and deceased,” adds Konkel. “A great thing to do on Veterans Day is to visit the Watford City Veterans Building, look at the names and read the stories of local soldiers. Get the the video - “Small Town Soldiers” - a tribute to WWII soldiers from Mckenzie County. Send care packages to our deployed troops. If you are in Washington, visit Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Stop by Schafer Cemetery, walk the grounds and study the markers, you will likely discover names you know, and most likely members of the armed forces that you were not aware of.”
If you are a veteran, the Watford City American Legion will be hosting a Veterans Supper at 6:30 on Veterans Day at the Watford City Civic Center.
Following the supper around 8 p.m., will be the lighting of the Sky Lanterns outside the Civic Center, which is open to the public.
“The Sky Lanterns are a great way to remember vVeterans who have passed, they can also be send off for someone who is serving over seas. They are a really great way to salute a soldier and it is a neat sight when we send them off.”
No matter what your plans are this Veterans Day, remember to thank a soldier.