Through the eyes of a Veteran |

Through the eyes of a Veteran

Jenny Goldsmith and Julie Brown
Sierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra SunHeather Harris, a Staff Sgt. Convoy Commander for the U.S. Army, stands in uniform by Lake Tahoe. Harris, a 1999 Truckee High School graduate, recently returned from her second deployment to Iraq.

For veterans throughout the Tahoe Basin, November 11 will be a day to celebrate the pride, camaraderie, and gratitude that is gained through serving the nation.

Some will commemorate the federal holiday by paying homage privately with family and friends. Other patriots will gather at the train depot’s Eagle Monument in downtown Truckee to celebrate those who answered the Nation’s call to arms.

Historically, Veterans Day signifies the implementation of the Armistice, signed in 1918 on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, thereby ending World War I.

In today’s society, Veterans Day offers Americans the opportunity to honor the valiant heroes that fought and sacrificed their lives in order to promote peace and preserve freedom for the United States.

On Wednesday afternoon, Nick Sassarini, 82, donned a China-Burma-India Veteran’s cap as he scuttled around his driveway on South River Street in Truckee.

Sassarini, a Truckee native, served as an Army Ranger in World War II between 1944 and 1946. Starting as a combat engineer, Sassarini helped construct roads from India to China for supply transportation.

“When I got back home, I was in good shape,” said Sassarini about working construction overseas.

Sassarini is a proud member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization in Reno, but says he does not change his day-to-day routine on Veterans Day.

“I just stay home and try not to worry too much,” he said.

As one of the few World War II veterans in the area, Sassarini has maintained his physical fitness and sense of humor.

“What being a veteran means to me is we should have more people like me,” he said with a chuckle. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they [the Army] called me back in there.”

Unlike some veterans who are reluctant to share war stories, Sassarini was eager to reminisce about his experiences in World War II. He recalled the bitter temperatures during the winter, the skills he gained from training, as well as the medals he received for his service.

“We all did what we had to do,” said Sassarini of his fellow World War II veterans. “I believe I did my share.”

A fervent patriot and veteran, Henry Murray is proud to have served in the Navy during the Korean War in the early 1950s.

“I think a person should be honored to serve their country,” said Murray. “I believe it’s your duty as an American.”

Murray moved to Truckee in 2001, but was raised by a career-military family in New Jersey.

“In our day, it wasn’t a choice-thing to join the forces,” Murray recalled. “I think it’s very commendable to see young people join on their own today.”

Not only is Murray impressed by those who answer the nation’s call to arms, he also feels that supporting them on Veterans Day is significant for American society.

“It’s a day to celebrate veterans and take time out to mention folks that have served,” said Murray. “Supporting troops is supporting troops and it’s a necessary thing.”

Not many can say they have witnessed the devastation of war on foreign land, but Don Colclough, 70, accurately recalls the destruction to South Korea.

“Downtown Seoul had gone up in smoke,” said Colclough. “Pictures don’t do justice to show how war devastates the land.”

After crossing the Pacific by boat in March of 1956, Colclough arrived in Seoul just after the war had ended as a stockade guard for the Army.

“I’m proud to be a veteran,” said Colclough. “I think there’s a handful of people in this town that are always behind this [Veterans Day] celebration.”

Colclough shows his support to soldiers in Iraq by donating money for care packages that are shipped overseas.

“You’ve got to let these people know that you care, otherwise they’re toast,” said Colclough.

Dennis Cook used to carry photos of his former girlfriend around with him in Vietnam, but now, he carries the memories of those who fought and died alongside him.

Cook served as a second-class-petty officer in Vietnam during the late 1960s, and is now a proud member of Truckee’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

“It boils my blood the way some people talk about veterans,” said Cook. “They forget what the vets have done for them.”

Cook’s experiences in Vietnam, combined with his passion for military service, has made him a strong advocate for brothers-in-arms.

He looks forward to touching base with some of his military comrades on Veterans Day.

“I usually get a lot of phone calls,” said Cook. “We don’t talk about what we did ’cause you already know, we talk mostly about our grandchildren and that’s neat.”

Although membership of Truckee’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post has dwindled over previous years, Cook feels a strong connection towards Veterans in the Truckee-Tahoe area.

“All these different wars, all these different people, with all these different stories, but we’ve all got the same camaraderie,” said Cook.

Like many Americans in the onset of the Vietnam War, Craig Fuller, 63, was unfamiliar with the controversy.

“I didn’t know where we were going and I hadn’t even heard of the war,” Fuller recalled.

Fuller served as a sergeant for the Marine Corps in Vietnam, and was an expert with the M-60 machine gun.

“We didn’t have the support of our country back then,” said Fuller. “But I take pride in knowing I served my country.”

Fuller intends on getting together with other Veterans of Foreign Wars members on Sunday to commemorate the sacrifices and services the brave men have endured.

“We can talk in detail because the feelings are shared – the fear of death, the taking of lives, you can talk to your fellow combatants about it,” Fuller said.

It’s the little things in life, Staff Sgt. Heather Harris says, that highlight the contrasts between the States and Iraq.

Back home in Truckee, it’s the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. The endless chain-store aisles stocked to the brim. The rekindled relationships with old friends. It’s the ability to take the wheel and drive anywhere.

But every time the lone female convoy commander in the 82nd Airborne Division sits in the driver’s seat, it is a conscious effort to remember that she is not piloting an armored vehicle on booby-trapped roads through Iraq’s sun-scorched landscape.

It’s the water running through the tap that contrasts further the differences between “here” and “there.” Turning the faucet is a process infinitely simpler than transporting water barrels ” a vital and scarce resource ” in a secure convoy through the heart of Iraq, from southern An Nasiriyah through Baghdad to northern Mosul.

It’s the schools, the infrastructure, the electricity, the security ” precious aspects of life that are expected here, and are steadily growing there.

Harris is a leader. She knows how to guide, to care and to provide for the soldiers in her convoy. How to control her emotions under stress, to clear her mind so she can think.

She was a woman in a man’s world. A feat that required enough strength to gain the trust of fellow soldiers.

“I had to stick to my guns, stick to my character and be consistent with who I was,” the short-haired curly-blonde says.

And who supported Harris? Prayers to God, letters from home, distant phone calls that Harris says were surreal.

Harris is a soldier. She volunteered for her second tour in the National Guard’s 593rd Medium Transportation Company in March 2006. Home for only two months, and she is already weighing the heavy decision of whether to go back a third time.

“I don’t feel that I’m going to change the world by going back over there,” the 1999 Truckee High graduate says while sitting in a local coffee shop Tuesday. “But I feel that am a part of it and I can influence those around me.”

Heather Harris is a Truckee local ” born and raised. She was deployed in 2003 for her first tour in Iraq and then volunteered for her second tour on July 4, 2006 with a field artillery unit. Harris was promoted the following March to convoy commander. She returned to Truckee in September and is currently working for her father’s company, Truckee Tahoe Towing.

There will be a Veterans Day Celebration in Downtown Truckee at the Eagle Monument in front of the train depot at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11.

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