Service is a duty
Vince McGowan returned to Manhattan from Vietnam in 1968 after spending two years as a platoon sergeant in the Marines. The homecoming was extremely demoralizing.
"It was horrible the way we were treated. Wearing a uniform would identify you, and cause ridicule and scorn," McGowan, now 60, recalled.
Angry that Vietnam vets were blamed for political decisions they didn't make, he founded the United War Veterans Council, which stages the Veterans Day Parade and honors a soldier's commitment "to follow orders."
"Service should be looked at as a responsibility of citizenship," said McGowan, a life-long resident of the upper West Side.
"When you volunteer to serve, it isn't a democratically operated military. You're committed to follow orders. ...If they've got any gripes, take them up with elected officials."
"On the day that the country honors veterans, take time out of your life to help a vet," he added. "If you can't buy one a drink at a local bar, you can support the Wounded Warriors program or other agencies the community has had to create itself because the nation has been less than grateful in recognizing service."
"It's getting better, but we've got a long way to go."
He couldn't wait to head overseas
Joseph (Pepi) Di Geronimo and his pals in East Harlem were itching to join the Army as World War II escalated. But they had to wait - then wait some more.
"In those days, your parents would've had a heart attack if you volunteered," Di Geronimo, now 82, told the Daily News. "If you were drafted, they were proud of you."
Di Geronimo, the son of Italian immigrants, heard from his friends on the draft board that he was slated to get called to service in June. But after begging them to push up the date, he was drafted in March 1943.
"That's like enlisting," Di Geronimo recalled proudly.
The brash 20-year-old quickly worked his way up to sergeant. But it wasn't until two years later, when he was sent to the Philippines, that he finally got his wish to go overseas.
"In Europe, you had a chance you'd go to Paris or Naples or Rome and dance with some beautiful-looking girl," said Di Geronimo, who lives in Jackson Heights, Queens.
"In the Philippines, we didn't have that. It was bombed out and there were still civilians in the rubble. There was no good time to be had there. There was a lot of chaos, sickness, disease.
"We want people to remember - and people want to remember - the boys who went out there to keep our country safe."
His thoughts turning to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Di Geronimo said, "Today, it's a different world; it's a different war. There's no flags, no uniforms. [The enemy] could be a man, a woman, a girl, a boy, a car, a motorcycle passing by. "This could be the end of civilization if something's not done about it. War is horrible but necessary."