Honoring our Veterans and Getting their Records
by Robert Pelton, HCCLA Past President
November 11, 1918 marked the end of World War I. History books tell us that the bells rang and the war to end all wars ended. No veterans of that war are living today and there are very few civilians who were alive on the 11th month of the 11th day at the 11th hour of 1918. In 1938, legislation was passed in the United States declaring November 11 to be “Armistice Day,” setting aside this day to honor those who served in World War I. Since 1954, November 11th is known as Veterans Day. Virtually every family has a legacy from wars that have occurred since, including: World War II, the Korean “Conflict”, the Cold War, Viet Nam, the Gulf, the Iraq, Afghanistan and other lesser known and ongoing operations.
Dave Hood was a farmer in Cooke County, Texas when he was called to serve in the army in World War I to fight “in the war to end all wars.” Dave and thousands of young men went over the pond to fight for America. He was still there on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the war ended in 1918. He heard the bells toll and the people rejoicing that the war was over. He came back to Cooke County to continue his life. Dave was never the same. Cousin Dave suffered from what was then called “shell-shock.” Dave self-medicated with alcohol. Truth be known, his drinking got so bad that his wife (while he was passed out on the bed) sewed the sheets together and beat him with a broom. Despite his wife’s inventive efforts to make him stop, it never worked. Veterans Day was always special to Dave. Dave would walk to my granddad’s farm which was nearby and ask my Aunt Fannie to bake him a chocolate pie. He did every November 11th until he left this Earth.
My Uncle Lowell, who served with General Patton in World War II, came back from the war “shell shocked.” He had been in a tank attack, when his tank exploded killing several of his buddies in the tank. A day later, after being trapped inside with his fallen comrades, Lowell was rescued from the tank and taken to an Army hospital in France to recover. After eight months he was sent back to battle. When the war ended, he came back to Anson, Texas, where he spent the rest of his life shaken by the war, and self- medicated with all there was around–alcohol.
Doctors and therapists know a lot more these days. “Shell-shock” as they called it in the old days is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or now known as “Post Traumatic Stress.”
In my era, many of us enlisted or were drafted in to the military. Some served in combat while others were held in reserve. Two of my closest friends served in the 101st Airborne Division in 1965 and 1966. Frank survived, graduated from college and became a huge success. My other friend Robbie, who enlisted at age 19, survived but suffered from PTSD. He was constantly plagued by the memories of the war. He was in a unit called Tiger Force and was in long range recon patrol. Robbie would be dropped in to observe the enemy and report his findings to his superiors. Robbie was one of those young men who would cut off the ears of the enemy he killed and wear them as souvenirs. To say he returned a changed man is an understatement. Robbie died a couple of months ago. Although he was decorated with multiple Bronze stars, he wanted NO part of a military funeral.
Every client has a backstory. Ethically to zealously defend our client, we have to get that story in addition to the facts of the offense the State is trying to sell. Some clients are forthcoming with their story, while others are not. We have to DIG DEEP.
With our clients who served in the military, forget the “Thank You For Your Service” cliché. INSTEAD, SPEND TIME SHOWING THE VETERAN YOU CAN DO MORE THAN JUST TALK A GOOD GAME AND GET THEIR RECORDS. A former employee of mine kept telling me she was calling everyday to get records on our client without success. In frustration, I stripped her of the assignment and actually reached the powers that be on the phone. The records were emailed to me within 10 minutes.
All avenues must be explored for dismissal, a not guilty verdict, or for punishment mitigation. School records, medical records, and military records must be obtained. Military records are particularly useful because unlike medical records that are likely shredded after 10 years, or school records that were stored in a warehouse that was destroyed by a hurricane, THEY ARE ACCESSIBLE.
Below is a website that advises you how to get military records:
National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, Missouri 63138
I have attached the instruction and information sheet for a request pertaining to military records. The link is http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/ or can be viewed here:
Click on “Submit your request by MAIL or FAX using the SF-180 Form”
Getting military records can make a big difference in a veteran’s life. The records may help you get a case dismissed. It may help you mitigate punishment in the event of a trial or a plea. Pick up the phone and call if you need adult leadership. If all else fails, call 314-801-0800 to talk to someone about the records. The people who work these requests are generally very helpful. If this information is confusing to you, simply google “How to get Military Records.” You will be thanking a veteran for his service by getting the records and using those records to show a jury, prosecutor, or a judge what the veteran is made of.