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Veterans Reflect on Service

American Legion members discuss range of services and sacrifices made in the name of the country.

Placing the heavy, leather bound scrapbook down on the counter, Herndon resident Jack Hickson, 80, flips through page after page of World War II-era newspaper clippings set next to photos of aircraft on bombing missions.

From April 8, 1945: “Armed Tears at Oil Vitals.” From Feb. 16, 1945: “Dresden Hit Again, Allied Aid to Reds.” The clippings tell the story of his older brother Richard’s military history during World War II, and illustrate just one story of duty and sacrifice in the name of the United States.

Hickson, now retired, was stationed in the Aleutian Islands in the mid-1940s as a cryptographer and has served in the Air Force, the Pentagon and the CIA over the course of his multi-decade career with the government. He said what's important this time of year is that people recognize the sacrifices made by those who put their lives on hold and in danger in the service of the United States.

“I hope that the people out there, they realize that these men who do these jobs, who go overseas, they are young guys and they interrupt their lives to do this stuff,” he said. “Look at everything they give up … they do a hard job, and a lot of these people are just young kids.”

One of the things that Hickson said he did for 15 years is collect books and magazines from local organizations as donations for wounded veterans in hospitals in the area. It is those people, Hickson said, that are some of the most important to remember.

PERSONAL SACRIFICE is a common thing amongst veterans.

The local Herndon American Legion Post 184, established in 1990, is named after Wayne Kidwell, a local man killed in Vietnam and buried in Chestnut Grove Cemetery. Kidwell, originally from Herndon, was chosen after a member suggested him to the newly-formed American Legion post in its early days.

Kidwell, a sergeant, was killed in action in Vietnam after returning to rescue a fellow soldier during a firefight.

Now, all members of the local post of the American Legion wear his name stitched into their hats as a sign of respect for the ultimate sacrifice made by United States soldiers while in service for their country.

ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE who knows about the sacrifices associated with armed service is Herndon-area resident George Idlett.

A veteran of the Army Air Corps in the Philippines during World War II, Idlett was a survivor of what has come to be known as the Bataan Death March, the forced 100 mile march of as many as 75,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners by the Japanese in 1942 that resulted in the deaths of about 10,000 soldiers. Prior to the march, Idlett and his fellow soldiers had withstood heavy Japanese bombing raids.

Idlett would go on to spend the remaining three years of the war as a prisoner, being transferred throughout the Pacific before being released following the U.S. victory.

When asked about the severity of the experience, the 87-year-old Idlett responded with a tone of stoicism. The march “wasn’t too bad, the worst thing was waiting in the camps to be rescued,” he said. “We were always told that help was on the way, but after spending a year and a half, it gets a little frustrating.”

Feeling that the experience of he and some 75,000 others has been progressively fading from the memory of the country, Idlett said that his biggest desire is to see more interest in the lives and sacrifices of the people involved in the events that defined this country.

FOR OTHERS, THESE sacrifices continue.

Herndon resident Mary Meyers, 46, a former staff sergeant of the Air Force, moved from her service in a mobile command unit based in Germany in the early 1980s to a position as a foreign service officer for the State Department.

On Veteran’s Day of this year, Meyers, a mother of two, will be getting off a plane in Kabul, Afghanistan as she returns and enters the fourth year of her assignment in managing reconstruction efforts in the war-torn country.

“I’m very proud of this holiday because it celebrates the men and women who serve this country and put their lives on the line for its people,” Meyers said. “I’m proud to put myself out there … and work to make a difference for our country.”

While the work in foreign and often hostile environments may be dangerous, Meyers said that she is reminded daily that her sacrifices are worth it.

“For the people in foreign service, it’s for the people of this country, not just their loved ones, but everyone,” Meyers said. “The service is for the good of the country and it’s for the good of our planet, and if we don’t do it, who will?”