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Generations of veterans in Donald McClain’s family were quietly present Monday at the Memorial Day ceremony held outside the 45th Infantry Museum at 2145 NE 36th Street.

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Gulf War veteran Angela Suttles brought her 5-year-old granddaughter, Laila to the Memorial Day ceremony. They were there with multiple generations of veterans in their family. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

McClain served in Vietnam in 1967. His daughter, Angela Suttles, is a Gulf War veteran. Her husband, Kenneth Suttles is also a veteran.

“My dad actually was the one who recruited me,” Suttles said with a slight laugh. It was the only levity of the day for the family whose members were somber but not openly sad or remorseful.

Her son, Sgt. Lawrence Bass is currently full-time in the Oklahoma National Guard and was on the Governor’s Honor Guard for the ceremony.

The reserved behavior of the entire family was similar to so many other veterans I have interviewed over the years on Memorial Day.

Veterans are gracious and quickly give their names, where and when they served.

But if they are asked to wax eloquent about those who have sacrificed their lives, they become very reserved.

There is a depth of respect that won’t let them speak too much for fear of drawing attention away from those who sacrificed their lives for their country.

Diversity in loyalty

McClain and his extended family represent modern-day veterans.

They are a multi-racial family whose members have served across generations in the Armed Forces.

They are a sampling of the actual military that has come to terms with and officially rejected societal biases against certain races.

Presence

No matter what the profile of the veterans present at the ceremony of remembering those who gave their lives for their country, they all seemed to value being present with others for the occasion.

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Vietnam War veteran Lonnie Washington could barely stand, but did during the National Anthem as his wife stood ready to help. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

Cecil Johnson served over eight years stateside in the National Guard at the end of the Vietnam War era. He came with a motorcycle club to honor the war dead.

Lonnie Washington who served in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969 had to attend in a motorized wheelchair with his wife, Audry. But, he still struggled to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.

Each was solemn about their presence and leery of saying anything that might overshadow those they came to honor.

Shifting realities

According to a published report by the Pew Research Center in November 2017, the profile of the average veteran in American society has made a major shift even from the time following the Vietnam War.

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Veteran Cecil Johnson from Enid came with a motorcycle club to honor those who sacrificed their lives for their country. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

Gulf War veterans like Suttles now outnumber Vietnam War veterans who were the biggest group of Veterans in recent decades.

With the decrease in active duty personnel has meant there are fewer veterans.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, less than 10 percent of the total U.S. adult population are veterans.

The Pew report cited a significant comparison from Census Bureau statistics.

Only 7 percent of U.S. adults were veterans compared to 18 percent in 1980.

It remains to be seen what impact the steady decrease of veterans will have on political and policy decisions in coming years.


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