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U.S. Army Captain Nicholas Loudon of Brockway connected faces and names with the sacrifice made by past, present and deceased veterans as part of the annual St. Marys Area School District Veterans Day Program on Wednesday.
Nicholas, 29, is the son of Randy and Sue Loudon of Brockway. Randy is a physical education teacher at St. Marys Area High School, while Sue is a teacher in the Ridgway Area School District. Nicholas Loudon is a graduate of Brockway Area High School and a 2004 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he majored in law with a minor in systems engineering.
â€śIâ€™m not here to talk about any particular war or conflict. What I want to talk to you about is simply what we honor every Veterans Day - and thatâ€™s people. People who have served and sacrificed for the United States of America in a time of war. Some of them served in wars that ended many years ago, some of them have served in current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of them paid the ultimate price for freedom,â€ť Loudon stated. â€śThe veterans I will tell you about today are those who I have served with, personal friends of mine and even family, but whatâ€™s important is that their stories of service and sacrifice represent all veterans of every war.â€ť
Loudon then presented a powerful slideshow that focused on veterans he has known personally. He noted his familyâ€™s military history, including his fraternal grandfatherâ€™s service in the Army during World War II, his maternal grandfatherâ€™s World War II service as a naval aviator who flew fighter bombers, his great-uncleâ€™s duty as a Marine and his cousinâ€™s duty as a tank platoon leader in the Gulf War.
â€śThey are people like my friend Craig Singer (of Kersey) who served as a non-commisioned officer in Vietnam during some of that warâ€™s toughest fights. Incidentally, Craig went on to serve with the VA and did some great things for our countryâ€™s veterans in PA,â€ť Loudon said.
The second group of veterans Loudon honored were those who are currently serving.
Among those were his former platoon leader, who served three tours in Iraq, totaling 39 months.
â€śWhile his first two deployments were pretty violent and disheartening, he was able to table those feeling and spearhead the construction of Iraqâ€™s first combined security force,â€ť Loudon said. â€śThis force would eventually become a cohesive and effective unit despite the fact that itâ€™s comprised of people of ethnicities that wanted to kill each other just years prior.â€ť
He also mentioned a female Navy lieutenant who served two tours in Afghanistan as an EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) technician with him during one of his tours in Iraq, and two paratroopers he served with during his first deployment who repealed a brutal 50-man complex attack by Al Qaeda in Iraq, carrying out their objective from a rooftop.
â€śFor their heroism, they were both awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Americaâ€™s second-highest honor,â€ť Loudon explained.
â€śThe last group, the ones Americans hold in the highest regard, are those who have lost their lives as a result of their service to this nation,â€ť he said, adding that among those were two other paratroopers who were killed during the rooftop mission. Each were awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for valor.
Loudon also recognized his former squad leader and good friend, who deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Katrina relief before being killed on March 5, 2007 by a massive IED. Additionally, he honored his friend, Capt. Garret Slaughter, who served one year in Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan, was buried in Arlington Cemetery on Monday.
â€śThis group includes people like my brother, 2nd Lt. Christopher Loudon, killed in action Oct. 17, 2006,â€ť Loudon said. â€śHe is also buried in Arlington, a few rows down from quite a few of my friends and comrades.â€ť
Loudon stated that while he is not an educator, his mother had suggested he offer a lesson in his speech.
â€śIt goes without saying that we should have the utmost respect for our veterans, but whatâ€™s more important is what we all can learn from the reasons that we hold them in such high regard,â€ť Loudon said. â€śWhile I highly encourage young people to at least consider joining the military, itâ€™s not realistic that everyone join the military, let alone deploy to a combat zone. Just because you donâ€™t want to or canâ€™t serve in combat does not mean that you cannot live a life of service and sacrifice.â€ť
He added that itâ€™s as simple as volunteering at a veteranâ€™s home or donating money to a good cause students feel strongly about.
â€śIt can even be as easy as taking a couple minutes out of each of your days to do something nice for someone less fortunate than you, a novel concept, I know. Just as veterans have made our country a better and safer place by taking up arms to defend it, you too can make your community and country a better place with much less effort,â€ť Loudon encouraged.
For more information on this story, see the November 11th edition of The Daily Press.