Former U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Russ King served two tours in Southeast Asia between 1969 and 1973. And while he appreciates the gratitude he receives at this time of year, he is quick to remind people that that’s what Veterans’ Day is for.
“Memorial Day Weekend is a time to thank the guys who gave the ultimate sacrifice, who gave everything for their country and who didn’t come home,” said King, after checking on the American flags he placed at the Highlands Ranch Veterans Memorial May 25. “The rest of us came home, but they gave their lives. They gave everything.”
King, who grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, lost 13 friends from high school in Vietnam in addition to two members from his squadron.
A member of American Legion Highlands Ranch Post 1260, he has spent the past four Memorial Day Weekends and last three July 4 weekends, placing flags at the Highlands Ranch memorial that was commemorated July 1, 2009, and honors hundreds of others with local ties that paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Every time he arrives at the monument King salutes the large memorial in the center that honors Highlands Ranch’s Cpl. Max Donahue, Sgt. Jon Stiles and Staff Sgt. Christopher Falkel, the three local soldiers who gave their all over the last decade in the War on Terror. He repeats this ritual each time he departs.
“It’s my way of paying respect to them for what they gave,” he said.
King said a lot has changed since World War II when there was a cause, and victory, and the troops all came home together, and were highly celebrated. Nowadays, he said, most people, himself included, don’t even know what we continue to fight for.
“I would like it if we would have brought the boys home yesterday,” he said. “Those people have been throwing sticks and stones at each other for years and are just going to go back to their old ways when we leave. You’d like to think we are truly fighting for democracy but I just don’t see it happening there.
“People are sick of it and I’m tired of seeing young men and women die in a war where there may not be a cause, but you don’t want to think like that. They are still there, and you still have to be red, white and blue and support them because of it.”