Bill Knowlton '65 has been no stranger to St. Mark's in recent years. He has been a regular at St. Mark's Career Day, meeting with students about serving in the military (he is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army), and in 2015 he attended the St. Mark's Distinguished Alumni/ae ceremony, accepting that distinction on behalf of his late father, General William A. Knowlton, SM Class of 1938.
Only a little more than a month ago, just one day before Veterans Day, Col. Knowlton was asked to address a school assembly at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, where his stepson and daughter-in-law are both on the faculty and his grandsons (pictured here with their grandfather) are students.
He had been told by his grandsons to expect that students would be talking or texting on their phones during the assembly, and he was asked by the Principal to limit his speech to no more than 10 minutes so as not to lose his audience's attention. Col. Knowlton spoke to the entire student body of 1700 students plus staff and a few guests.
"The response was beyond anything I'd imagined," he would later write. "You could have heard a pin drop during my entire speech, and I got a five minute standing ovation when I'd finished."
St. Mark's has a long legacy of military service. The very first student to arrive on campus in the autumn of 1865 would go on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and after 44 years in the service retire as an Admiral. Over the past century-and-a-half, almost 2000 St. Markers have served. In 2017, Colonel Marjorie Slutz Davis (Southborough School Class of 1975) was named to the School's Cloister of Distinguished Alumni/ae. Most recently, five St. Mark's graduates have attended the various U.S. military academies (Michael Hoffman SM '13 USN Academy at Annapolis, Eric Danielsen SM '14 USM Academy at West Point, Luke Trautwein SM '12 USCG Academy at New London, Alistair Chase SM '14 USAF Academy at Colorado Springs, and Maddie Vachris SM '13 USN Academy at Annapolis) and three are currently deployed.
Colonel Knowlton and his wife are moving to Colorado, and so will not be able to visit St. Mark's as often as in the past. Given his devotion to the School and St. Mark's legacy of military service, it is certainly appropriate to share his recent Veterans Day speech as we head into a New Year. Age Quod Agis.
VETERANS DAY SPEECH
LIBERTY HIGH SCHOOL
Lt. Col. (Ret.) William A. Knowlton, Jr., USA (SM Class of 1965)
NOVEMBER 10, 2017
It's a pleasure for me to speak to you today about Veterans Day. Liberty is not a typical high school in that many of you come from military families and have parents or grandparents who are or have been in the military. I decided that nothing could be more appropriate for Veterans' Day than to talk about veterans, particularly to an audience where many of you know veterans or service members.
I believe when we use the term "veteran" today, we mean someone who served honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States of America. Since the founding of our nation, members of the Armed Forces have been called to serve their country and defend it numerous times. When Revolutionary War soldier Nathan Hale said, "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" before he was executed by the British, he was expressing his willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of his country.
But on Veterans Day, we honor not only those members of the Armed Forces who gave their lives for their country, but all veterans. It is fitting that we so honor our veterans, because they have not always been honored for their service. Sometimes, when they have returned home from defending our nation they have been met not with thanks, but with indifference, or, even worse, hostility. Americans often have tried to forget wars, which is understandable, but often also have forgotten those who have fought our wars. Veterans Day originally was not primarily a day to honor veterans, but a day to remember the armistice that ended the fighting in World War I. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the first Armistice Day to commemorate the armistice that silenced the guns exactly one year before, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Even though the president established Armistice Day in 1919 and Congress followed with a resolution in 1926, the veterans of World War I never were paid a bonus that had been promised to them by Congress, prompting them to march on Washington in 1932 demanding the bonus to help them through the depression. In one of America's lowest moments, President Herbert Hoover, fearing a riot, directed the Army to disperse the bonus marchers. General Douglas MacArthur, the Chief of Staff of the Army, complied, perhaps exceeding his orders, and burned the camps of the veterans around Washington – the same veterans he had led as a division commander in World War I.
World War II was different from World War I in its size and in its effect on the entire nation. Those on the home front also supported the war effort, and for many Americans World War II was a time of sacrifice and hardship. Veterans of World War II most often returned to parades and the recognition they deserved for their part in winning the war.
Five years later, when fighting broke out in Korea, the threat to the United States was not as apparent as it was during World War II. The conflict in Korea had nowhere near the impact in the United States of World War II, and its veterans weren't as numerous, nor did they get the recognition of the veterans of World War II. In an attempt to rectify this oversight and to broaden the meaning of Armistice Day beyond solely recognizing the end of World War I, on June 1, 1954, President Eisenhower declared November 11th a day to honor American veterans of all wars: Veterans Day.
Then came the Vietnam War, a war that many Americans opposed, and a war that we lost, with the last American combat forces pulling out of Vietnam in 1973 and South Vietnam falling to the North Vietnamese Army in 1975. Your grandparents probably remember the protests against the war and how it divided our nation. Unfortunately, many Americans did not make the distinction between opposition to the war and opposition to the military who fought that war, not recognizing that those who fight our wars rarely start them and have the most to lose. Not only was our veterans' sacrifice not recognized and honored, some veterans and their families were denigrated by those they were fighting to defend. Three members of my family served in combat in Vietnam: my father (General William Knowlton, SM Class of 1938), my younger brother (Davis Knowlton, SM Class of 1967), and I. We got varying reactions to our return from Vietnam. I can remember going to pick up my father at the Washington Dulles Airport on his return home after two years in Vietnam, with little notice except from family and friends. I experienced the same little noticed return when my mother and sister came and picked me up at a New York airport. My brother Dave was in a long range reconnaissance platoon in the 101st Airborne Division and came home in uniform through San Francisco, but met with a different reaction. He was spit on and called a "baby killer" by a war protester in the San Francisco airport. Many Vietnam veterans met with either this hostility or indifference. That has now changed. When I meet every year at the Vietnam Memorial with other veterans of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment who served in Vietnam and Cambodia, our most common greeting to each other is "Welcome home."
We now have a new generation of veterans: the veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These veterans are different from the veterans of Vietnam, my generation, in two ways. First, they are all volunteers – we have been an all-volunteer force since the end of the draft in 1973. Second, most of them have served multiple combat tours, when most of the veterans of Vietnam only served in combat for one year. It is not unusual for noncommissioned officers or officers now to have served two, three, or four combat tours, with little recovery time between tours. With troops still in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and other areas throughout the world, the sacrifice we ask of our veterans is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Remembering the shameful treatment given to our returning Vietnam veterans, Americans recently have gone out of their way to recognize the sacrifice and service of the men and women returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat zones. There's a danger, however, that as fewer US service members serve in combat that we forget about those who still are in the front lines defending our country. Also, if support for conflicts where America's sons and daughters go in harm's way decreases, we must not allow that to decrease our support for the veterans of those conflicts. They will need our support for years to come, particularly the wounded warriors returning with lifelong disabilities, and they deserve our eternal gratitude for defending our nation against enemies as dangerous as any that we have ever faced.
Frequently now, when people recognize that I am a veteran, they will say, "Thank you for your service." In Colorado Springs, you will undoubtedly see and interact with veterans. I'd ask you to thank them for their service, and if you have the opportunity ask them about that service. Respect that some veterans may not want to or be able to talk about their service. Some men and women who have deployed to combat theaters are experiencing post-traumatic stress or may have traumatic brain injuries. Their experiences may have been too horrible to talk about. However, others may be delighted to share their experiences with someone who's interested, and you'll find that what they did gives new meaning to sacrifice and service.
So on this Veterans Day tomorrow, let us salute and thank the veterans who have defended our nation in the past and those who are defending it now – our freedom is due to their sacrifice and service. Particularly for those of you who have veterans in your families, let them know you appreciate and are proud of their service to our country. And to the families and children of veterans and service members now on active duty, thank you for your sacrifice and support to our veterans.