By Lynne Phillips
"Today when someone approaches me, shakes my hand and thanks me for my service my feelings are it was an honor to serve my country. If I had it to do over I would with no regrets," said Veteran's Day speaker John Hooker.
Introducing Hooker, senior class president Miklos White said, "The willingness of America's veterans to sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude."
Hooker is a Vietnam veteran and the recipient of two Purple Hearts.
"I am really touched," he told the audience. "The school is to be commended for doing this program.
"First of all I would like to salute all of the veterans here," he said. "When I came here this morning it was like old home week. I am a 1966 graduate of New London High School and I will be forever grateful for my upbringing. I call it a 'grassroots' upbringing. Youwere taught to love God, family and country. It is thanks to my parents, teachers and other positive adult role models I am who I am today and who instilled those values in me.
"I knew well before I graduated from high school it would be first things first me. And the first thing would be serving my country. I graduated on June 5, 1966 and started active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps on the 29th of June that year.
"To make a long story short," he said, "I served in Vietnam from March 1967 to March 1968. I was a grunt, a ground pounder in the infantry. I carried a M16 machine gun.
"In March of 1968 I was seriously injured as a result of 'friendly fire'." Pursing his lips and shaking his head, he said, "Which wasn't friendly, I don't know why they choose to call it that."
From the time of his injury in March 1968 until Oct. 1971 he was hospitalized in two hospitals and underwent 35 surgeries.
"To say I am fortunate is an understatement. I say this because the norm for me while I was in the hospital was to be surrounded by other wounded Marines who had lost arms, legs, been paralyzed and blinded. I am convinced God put them there to show me just how fortunate I was." Soberly, he said, "Well I am alive today and during the Vietnam War there were 60,000 people who didn't make it back home.
"The question I am most asked, is if I am bitter." His reply was simple, "No, I am very grateful."
Recalling the reception home to, he said, "They did not come home to any kind of positive reaction. I do know some Vietnam veterans who were spit on. Some people in this countryb blamed the Vietnam vets for the war. I'm not resentful of that. It is all in the past. I just wonder how they could do something like that.
"I have had so many good things come into my life and all of that is all ancient history," he commented.
Indicating there is so much more support for those who have served and are serving in the country's military, he said, "Things have turned around and are better."