Thoughts of Americans on Memorial Day center on the departed military veterans. Veterans on that day also have their thoughts on their years in the military.

What do veterans think about?

Probably, most of all, they think about their military buddies, both the ones who didn’t come home and the ones who did. Close relationships are made in the service. You find out there are differences in people, but in many ways all are the same. If you were an enlisted man or woman, you are among the thousands, millions who were a number. But there are opportunities for advancement if one has leadership qualities, and is willing to take on huge responsibilities.

We have often said there is no other place other than the military where so much responsibility is given to a person at such a young age. Young noncommissioned enlisted men and women and officers carry huge loads, and are called on to make major decisions, often life and death ones. Another truism is that it is the young people who fight the wars, on land, the seas and in the air. They are out in front in facing the enemy. That’s where major decision-making challenges them.

Many who serve now or did in the past were citizen soldiers, seamen and airmen and women. That is, they have and had no interest in making the military a career. Their interest is and was to serve their time and return to civilian life. Some of our World War II veterans were called back in for the Korean War and then decided to make the military a career. Some of those veterans served in the Vietnam War also. Three wars in their lifetime! That’s an experience!

Many veterans think about their wartime experiences more as they get older. Coming back from wartime duties, and combat, most veterans don’t talk much about their experiences. First of all, they would like to forget some of their experiences. Secondly, it is hard to relate to civilians what a combat situation is like, especially how it is to be under fire from the enemy. No veteran likes to talk about the killing, the wounding, the POW experiences, the loss of buddies. Those experiences forever linger in the minds of our veterans.

Some veterans, as they get older, wonder, did that really happen? It’s still real today in their minds, but it seems like it was in another life.

Veterans do remember the good times as well as the bad times. There are good times. Solid friendships are made. After the shooting was over in Korea, we remember a former WW II Marine who had received a commission in the Army. It was a bull session at night with beer in hands. There was a lot of complaining about returning to a training schedule after the combat ended. Yes, they were glad the shooting stopped, but for those who had been in combat, returning to training was boring. The former Marine said, “You will remember the good times, like tonight.” He was right.

Veterans remember the good sergeants and officers they served under. They also remember the poor ones. Veterans remember the outstanding leaders they served under and the inept ones. Veterans remember the leaders who they had great faith in due to their leadership qualities. Unfortunately, they also remember the ones who didn’t have those qualities. They remember the “yellow” ones!

Veterans remember the brave officers and enlisted men who they served with — the type who didn’t ask them to do something they wouldn’t do. Leaders who lead by example are the ones who have a solid following. Leaders who command discipline but at the same time lead by example, are fair, are the ones in the good memories.

Combat veterans are never going to share all their memories. They come alive at this time of the year, but there is more silence than loud words.