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(Enlarge) Staff Sgt. Christian Foster of the Defense Information School Color Guard carries the American flag after retiring the colors during the installation's Veterans Day Ceremony held Nov. 10 at the Fort Meade Museum. The ceremony featured guest speakers Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Don Hirst, a former war correspondent, Vietnam veteran and former Soundoff! editor. (Photo by Brian Krista)

It was fitting that on this day the skies were gray and a chilly, light rain fell on the cobblestone plaza outside the Fort Meade Museum, where community and military members gathered to honor those who sacrificed and served in uniform.

The museum hosted the installation's annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 10 at the Museum Plaza, as well as a reception indoors after the Defense Information School Color Guard lowered the flag during the retiring of the colors.

The afternoon ceremony featured guest speakers Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and former war correspondent and Vietnam veteran Don Hirst, who spoke on the country's support for veterans.

Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein opened the ceremony by discussing the importance of Veterans Day. While the day commemorates those who serve and who have served, Rothstein said, it is also a time to remember the families of the veterans and active-duty military.

During his remarks, Ruppersberger, the son of a World War II veteran, said Veterans Day is more than just a day off work or school. It is a time to remember the veterans who protected the country's values.

"For more than 230 years, the men and women of our military have secured freedom and liberty for our nation," he said. "We are all proud of that tradition."

The Maryland congressman also addressed the concerns that veterans have once they return to civilian life. Veterans, he said, face many challenges as they transition out of the military, and the country should provide more assistance for those who need it.

"We must never forget those heroes who gave their lives to preserve our nation's liberty," Ruppersberger said. "They gave their best and they deserve the best in return."

Hirst, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and former Soundoff! editor, served on active duty in Vietnam for nearly five years. Awarded the Bronze Star, he returned as a war correspondent. One of his photographs on the battle for the U.S. Embassy during the Tet Offensive in January 1968, was used as the cover shot of at least two books on Tet.

In 1974, Hirst joined the Army Times as an associate editor. In 1985, he launched Salute military magazine, serving as executive editor for two decades.

During his speech, Hirst said that more needs to be done for veterans, including good medical care while serving and after leaving the military.

"This nation is richer -- much richer -- for their service and for the service and sacrifices of their brothers and sisters in arms," Hirst said. "We as a nation owe a huge debt to those who defend it, a debt that I would argue can never truly be repaid. ... We as a nation have a solemn obligation to remember that, to never forget that we live in freedom because young men and women in uniform risk not becoming old men and women."

From deployments to public opinion, much has changed in the way veterans are treated since his experiences during and immediately after the Vietnam War, Hirst said.

One major change is that the Department of Veterans Affairs has put an effort into helping service members cope with combat stress. Hirst candidly spoke about his ongoing battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and how he now meets weekly with a medical expert to try to relieve the stress caused by his experiences in Vietnam.

"I'm glad I took that step," Hirst said. "In many ways it was much scarier than climbing aboard a chopper to mesh with an infantry unit for several days of combat reporting."

Hirst said he would encourage any veteran or service member to seek the same help he did for PTSD.

"Unlike fine wine and a decent single-malt scotch, post-traumatic stress doesn't improve with age," he said.

Hirst also spoke about how people respond to veterans today in stark contrast to the treatment of returning Vietnam vets 40 years ago.

He said he is "startled" when a complete stranger sees his cap with the Military Assistance Command Vietnam patch and thanks him for his service. This, Hirst said, was not the case when service members returned home from the Vietnam War.

"That's a sea of change from my youth," he said. "Back then, the second word might have been 'you.' But the first word usually wasn't 'thank.' "

Hirst ended his remarks by challenging the audience to think of what little things they could do to make a veteran's day better -- on any day, not just on Veterans Day.

"Little things mean a lot," he said. "With enough of them, you end up with a really big thing."

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