Mayor Shelley Brindle gave the following speech during Monday’s Veterans Day ceremony.
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to say a few words today, and to all of you that have served our country, and to those of you that do such good work on behalf of our veterans. Thanks especially to the students that are here today. It’s so important that you hear these stories of bravery and sacrifice so you can appreciate the price that has been paid for our freedom.
For me personally, Veterans Day has a special meaning as it always falls near the anniversary of the day that my dad was killed in Vietnam. My dad, Major David I. Wright, was an Air Force pilot whose plane was shot down over Vietnam on Nov. 13, 1970, which would be 49 years ago this Wednesday. I was only six years old, and my two older sisters were eight and 10, about the same ages of many of you here, when we lost our dad. After he was killed, my mom moved our family from Nevada to Virginia where we started a new life as civilians, but our military friends never forgot us.
I spoke about our extended military family last year, but this year it has a more recent and happier twist. Beginning about five years ago, a few veterans who we did not know, reached out to my oldest sister after finding her contact information on the virtual Vietnam Wall online. They wanted to share their memories of my dad as they themselves reached the twilight of their lives.
One was my dad’s plane mechanic at Udorn AFB in Thailand, another was a young sergeant who played basketball with him, and another didn’t even know him but wore my dad’s bracelet every day and wanted my sister to have it. Another enlisted man named Tom Mountain shot skeet with my dad at Nellis AFB and would send me notes every Memorial Day and Veterans Day after he connected with us. When I became mayor he was over the moon, and sent me a note saying “surely you must be the only Gold Star mayor in America. I hope you proudly wear your gold star pin to work.”
Tom’s story of service is one familiar to veterans everywhere. He enlisted in the Air Force at the height of the Vietnam War, not waiting to be drafted since military service was considered a duty in his midwestern Ohio family. An avid hunter, he took up skeet shooting when he was stationed at Nellis AFB which is where he met my dad, a fellow enthusiast.
My dad was strikingly handsome, a Naval Academy graduate and fighter pilot, a scratch golfer and incredible joke teller. A true officer and a gentleman. According to Tom, however, what set my dad apart was his kindness and compassion, reflected in his willingness to engage and mentor an enlisted man, which was a departure from protocol in those days.
Tom left Nellis in late 1969, and when he returned two years later he found that the skeet shooting range had been renamed the Major David I. Wright Memorial shooting range. That was how he found out my dad, his mentor, was never coming home.
Decades later Tom Mountain sought out my family so that he could let my sisters and me know what kind of person my dad was. He felt an obligation to be a caretaker of his fallen brethren’s legacy, because that’s what veterans do.
But the story doesn’t end there. As luck would have it, my daughter Nora chose to attend Ohio State, or the Ohio State University as I’ve been told to say. And guess who is a season football ticket holder? That’s right. Tom Mountain.
So this past Saturday, just two days ago, on a chilly day at a tailgate at Ohio Stadium, I got to meet the man that so admired my dad he went to incredible lengths to make sure his legacy of kindness was remembered by our family. His departing words to me were, “Your dad says hello.”
Tom’s kind act is a reflection of the military ethos of service, support and selflessness that every veteran carries with them. As a nation, we could all benefit from emulating the values of our veterans.
We civilians owe them not just gratitude for their service, but civility and kindness to each other. They did not put their lives on the line for our country to be torn apart from within. So in honor of our veterans, resist the temptation to always be right. Resist using social media as a weapon to tear people down. Befriend those that don’t look or act like you. Stand up to the bullies. Talk less. Listen more.
Once again, on this Veterans Day, I urge everyone to offer more than gratitude to those who served. Offer your time to a veteran who’s lonely, or your experience to a vet that needs a job, or your voice to advocate for better services for them all.
Or simply honor the Tom Mountains of the world by lifting up those around you.
Thank you for your time today. May God bless you and the United States of America.