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Not Every Soldier Coming Home from War Gets a Hero's Welcome, but They All Deserve One

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On Memorial Day, May 27, we paused to remember the brave warriors who gave their lives in defense of our freedom. This week, on June 6, we observed the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy that marked the beginning of the end of WWII.
As we march toward Independence Day this year, there's even more to celebrate. A unique alliance of nonprofits and patriotic Americans has designated June 8 as a "Day of Gratitude." Our team from CityServe will gather alongside Voice of the Veteran and ChurchLV at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas to shower blessings upon our veterans, active-duty military members, and their families. 
We're offering entertainment, gifts that include several basic necessities, and much more. We're making this celebration of those who wear the uniform a top priority because honoring these heroes feels especially important this year. 
The bloody conflicts in Ukraine and Israel have given us all a greater appreciation for those who defend democracy. As scenes from these wars fill our headlines, we're reminded of all the historic and very recent battles when our own soldiers defended our way of life or helped protect our allies from the encroaching threat of terror and tyranny. 
It brings to mind a scene from the Academy Award-winning film Forrest Gump. Just before he ships off to Vietnam, a friend tells Gump: If you're ever in mortal danger, run. Don't try to be a hero, just run.
Sure enough, when his unit is ambushed and comes under enemy fire, Tom Hanks' Gump character instinctively flees, racing to escape the gunfire. But then he does something that exemplifies the heroism of our brave men and women in uniform. 
Gump turns around and runs back into the firefight. Time and again, with rounds zipping by all around him, he hefts wounded comrades up onto his back and carries them to safety. This selfless act earns him the Medal of Honor. 
We need to remember, however, that not every U.S. soldier returns home to a brass band and a medal ceremony. Just ask Marine Sgt. (Ret.) Dan Kamanao. He's one of those proud warriors joining us at Allegiant Stadium in June. 
Dan's heart for service as a U.S. Marine is legendary. He was just 17 when he first shipped off to fight in Vietnam. "Sgt. K," as he was affectionately known by his men, went on to serve four tours of duty in Vietnam. Although he doesn't talk about it, Sgt. K was wounded multiple times. Indeed, he's endured 45 surgeries over the years. 
"Sgt. K" is a hero who put everything on the line for us. But consider the treatment he and his comrades received upon returning home from Vietnam. I consider it one of the darkest chapters in our nation's history. 
"We were told on a commercial flight coming back to Oakland, California, 'You have to change out of your uniform and into civilian attire,'" says Sgt. K. "Now as Marines, we're proud of our uniforms. So one of my best friends kept his uniform on."
Sadly, that was a big mistake. 
"We were spit at," he recalls. "We had rotten tomatoes and rocks thrown at us."
"It hurt us," Sgt. K laments. "We were all just young kids. We'd done what we were told to do. …That really hurt us."

Nevertheless, Sgt. K channeled his pain into a noble cause, devoting his post-military life to helping veterans fill out the paperwork they needed to qualify for medical care and disability compensation. Now at 76 years old, Sgt. K has completed the compensation claim paperwork for over 14,000 of his fellow service members. 
So, how important is a celebration like a "Day of Gratitude" to him and his fellow veterans after all they've experienced? Sgt. K says seeing America's appreciation first-hand "will mean the world to us."
He explains, "We will die knowing that we weren't forgotten, and that our country loves us, too."
If you happen to see a veteran or an active-duty service member, please look them directly in the eye and tell them how incredibly grateful you are for all they've done to protect the freedom we enjoy. With the cookouts, firework displays, and vacations that consume this time of year, be sure to pause and remember those who have paid tremendous prices to defend our homeland and preserve peace. Find a way, no matter how seemingly insignificant, to honor our heroes in uniform. 
"To know that it comes from the heart and not from the lips," Sgt. K says, "That's how you tell us 'Thanks.'"
Then, after an emotional pause, this hero added: "And in return, we say, 'Thank you. It was my honor to do it for you, the American citizen.'"
 Dave Donaldson is the co-founder and CEO of CityServe International. Learn more about Day of Gratitude at

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