Anthony Barton Hinkle

“War makes strange giant creatures out of the little routine men who inhabit the Earth”
WWII correspondent, Ernie Pyle.


Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg – or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul’s alloy forged in the refinery of adversity. Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can’t tell a vet just by looking.

What is a vet?

He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn’t run out of fuel.

He is the Nebraska farmer who worries every year that this time, the bank really will foreclose.

He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 39th Parallel.

She – or he – is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.

He is the POW who went away one person and came back another or didn’t come back at all.

He is the Quantico drill instructor who never has seen combat – but who has saved countless lives by turning slouchy no-’counts into soldiers, and teaching them to watch each others’ backs.

He is the parade-riding legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.

He is the anonymous hero in the Tomb of the Unknowns, whose presence at Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the other anonymous heroes whose valor died unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean’s sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket – palsied now and aggravatingly slow – who helped liberate a Nazi death camp, and who wishes all day long his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being – a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs. He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

Webmaster's Note: The following is the text of an email received on November 3, 2006. It is self-explanatory and, after checking the archives of the Richmond Time-Dispatch and purchasing copies of the said articles, I'm confident that the origin of this important and popular tribute to Veterans has been clarified.

Dear Kind Sir or Madam:

I think your website is fantastic!

I hope you will consider my request in the sincere manner in which it is made. In reference to the piece, “What is a Vet?” which is often attributed to Father Denis Edward O’Brien, USMC: the correct reference should be: Editorial, The Richmond Times-Dispatch: November 11, 1995.

My husband, Anthony Barton Hinkle, wrote the piece for a Veteran’s Day editorial. Basically, the editorial hit such a nerve that it was quickly passed along and eventually ended up on the Internet, attributed to Col. James Hackworth, a CEO named George S. Gennin, somebody named Bob Jack, and most frequently Father Denis Edward O’Brien. As with lots of emails, it just took on a life of its own and is hardly ever properly credited. However, the editorial is reprinted by the Times Dispatch every year on Veteran’s Day.

Would you please take the necessary steps to have the reference corrected on your website? I have a link at the bottom of this page so that you can verify the legitimacy of this information. [Webmaster’s Note: The link to the above reference to the Richmond Times-Dispatch]

Very sincerely,

Dawn M. Hampton
Richmond, VA
November 3, 2006
(email address supplied)