A Veteran’s Memory

A Veteran’s Memory

This weekend we will observe a Federal holiday, Veterans Day, November 11. For generations we have honored  veterans of WWI and WWII, and then Korea, Vietnam, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today is another significant date: November 9, the day when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. It marks a milestone for veterans of another significant conflict, the Cold War. It was a war without bombs and bullets. Its victory was earned by the resolve of two generations of forgotten patriots, many drafted, who served in uniform. They are often overlooked, but they numbered in the millions over that long Cold War period. 

By Harry Puncec

Perhaps you’ve noticed him taking his morning walk around the neighborhood.  He takes the same route at the same time every day, clearly a person schooled in schedule and routine.  It’s easy to ignore him as he and his walk have been a fixture for as long as you’ve lived nearby.  There he goes again you might think, and wonder just what is his story.

You don’t know much about him as he’s quiet and stays near home.  He and his wife drive off for a few hours occasionally, visiting the grandkids probably, but are always home before dark.  His yard looks good as he’s often out trimming the shrubs and pulling weeds.  When you pass by on your run he looks up, smiles softly, and nods.  Not much of a greeting but friendly enough.

He has those specialty plates, “Honorably Discharged Veteran”, on his car and you wonder when he served and if he saw action.  It’s hard to imagine him lasting 5 minutes in combat but he must have been young and vital once.  Regardless of when and where he did his military duty he seems to have come home in one piece, not like those broken soldiers often featured in news stories, thank God.

His story is less – and more – than you might imagine.  He was a Cold War warrior and never heard a shot fired in anger.  His unit was always on call of course and he could have been pulled into a perilous situation overnight, but after a couple years of field training he adjusted to the tiresome routine of being ready but never sent.  During those years he never forgot that his enlistment demanded total commitment until discharge – or until that last full measure of devotion he offered was redeemed.

What he never completely adjusted to in the military was the total immersion it required.  As a child he was the center of a family’s affection and lived for its holiday rituals.  In the service he vanished into the unit, an insignificant strand in a massive cable.  He spent his birthdays, Thanksgivings, and Christmases in a foreign land within a randomly assembled troop of strangers.  After a while they became family, one with branches in every race, cultural background, and regional distinction.  Some he didn’t care for much, but most were solid guys who could be counted on in a pinch.  A few even became close friends – buddies – who he knew would get him safely back to the barracks after a night of satisfying excess.  They were still close a half century later.

The customs of the military became second nature.  He liked to stand at attention and salute the flag, a flag he now understood, and he found that being part of the unit had its own special satisfaction; his company was the best in the battalion, the battalion kicked ass, and his army still unconquered.  His bonding reached its emotional peak when he put on the history-enriched Class A uniform, an act of belonging that fired an intense pride he hadn’t expected and cherishes still.

As the years passed he changed, and he rather liked the man he became.  Acceptance of austere conditions and stern duty drove an emerging adulthood while a quiet focus replaced his teen drift.  His buddies, he learned to his intense pleasure, sensed this maturity and trusted him.  He vowed that unto death he would keep that confidence, not as a hero but as a man devoted to his own.

After discharge, as he raced to catch up with old classmates who had ducked service, he completed the education he now embraced and landed a job that supported a good life with wife and kids.  It was an agreeably comfortable life, for which he was grateful, but one without the adventure and intensity of the military.  No matter as he never forgot what once was.  Now when he takes that walk in retirement, nodding to neighbors and smiling at the kids at play, he knows that in a tiny way in that time long, long ago helped guarantee the security of this day, and reserved his honored place in it.

Harry Puncec served in the U.S. Army from 1959 to 1962. This essay was first published in the Denver Post online edition on November 10, 2009.

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An Unforgettable Escapade

An Unforgettable Escapade

Ah, the dreams of youth. For the young, the future is wide open!  Take a chance, go for it!  I’m gonna live forever!  Sometimes we wonder how we survived that dangerous confidence and exuberance. Have you ever feared for your life?  Our neighbor Faith Gunther tells us a story this week of youth and big dreams, bold action, and, well… oops.

By Faith Gunther

As a senior in high school, like all young people that age, I pondered what the future would look like – what a possible career would be. Because the year was 1956-57 my choices, according to my parents, were secretary, nurse or teacher but I was fascinated with the many Anasazi (Early Puebloan) ruins in my area and seriously considered anthropology or archaeology. Early on I was an advocate for the Ute Mountain Indians who lived on their reservation south of Cortez.

Then a teacher by the name of Bill Mason came into my life and got me interested in journalism. For the next three years I worked for the Cortez Sentinel/Durango Herald newspapers after school and summer vacations. I was hooked! I was to become the next Brenda Starr Girl Reporter!

Comic panel featuring Brenda Starr. By Blackthorne; web source:, Fair use, Link

During one of those summers I decided to write an exclusive feature article. The Colorado Highway Department had been trying to get a meeting with Chief Jack House of the Ute Mountain Utes to obtain permission to build a road through the Four Corners area that would trespass their reservation. Chief House had been difficult to reach as he was up at his sheep camp in the mountains but I heard he had come down to Towaoc for the Bear Dances. I donned a black and pink squaw dress,1 pink moccasins (a favorite outfit of mine), grabbed the paper’s speed graphic camera and keys to the company pickup. I drove to the reservation, where in those days outsiders were not allowed at the Bear Dances.

I parked in a row with many other pickups and being real sneaky worked my way on foot up to a spot where I could get a shot of the dancers and hopefully the Chief. As I was crouched on the ground between two pickups I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and there was a very serious looking Ute man. He motioned with his head for me to stand up and his companion took my camera. They led me, one in front and one in back, to the side of the dancing encampment where I was held and without words being spoken, I knew I was to wait in that spot. The one with my camera was still with me. The other walked up to a wickiup where several costumed men were seated cross legged on the ground – some playing drums. There was one man seated in a folding type lawn chair. I waited and waited and the drums and singing continued and I was almost too afraid to turn and look at the dancers, but I snuck a peak. Two lines – one of men and one of women facing each other would shuffle up and almost touch and then shuffle back. It was an eons-old dance celebrating winter’s passing and the reunion of neighbors and friends.

Finally the other man returned after talking with the man in the lawn chair and said to me, “The Chief says you can have his picture if he can have yours.” In my thumping heart and knee shaking fright I had suffered all kinds of thoughts while being held captive – like, “Nobody knows where I am,” “Who will write the article about my body being discovered in a dry ravine,” and “What will my parents think?” I was so nervous that when my camera was handed back to me I forgot to take out the clip so the camera would record. The Chief pulled out a little Brownie type camera, took my picture and then the men had a laugh.

I was ushered back to my pickup. I didn’t have to be told to leave. My escorts didn’t say a word. They were soldiers. I didn’t get my exclusive story to write and publish, but I had survived and had a great Brenda Starr story to tell.

This story was first published in Lakewood AAUW Bylines and is used here with permission. Faith Gunther didn’t become a journalist but went on to become a teacher. Her adventurous escapade as a 19-year-old on the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation added credibility and interest to her teaching career for students in Southwest Studies or American History classes. She lives in Village Cooperative of Lakewood.

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