Veterans Day has changed over time.

It started as Armistice Day, enacted in 1919 to commemorate the official end of World War I the previous year. The day was to be observed “with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples” and the display of the flag on all government buildings.

For nearly a century since, streets across the United States have been speckled with American flags big and small, color guards and military uniforms stretching across decades of history. It became a legal holiday and then Veterans Day, growing to elaborate celebrations and extended weekends.

Indeed, Veterans Day has changed over time.

And so have the people who serve and the battles they’ve seen: Russell K. Bond, whose service as a radio operator gave him a bird’s eye view of D-Day. Or Fred Fletcher, who has seen support for the military come full circle since he first fought in Korea. Or Rigo Dalimonte who spent a year under fire in Vietnam. Or Ed Fletcher who was born into a Marine Corps family and continued that service years later. Or Art Foster, who still wears the uniform today.

The five veterans with more than 80 years of combined service serve as a reminder of why the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is now set aside annually.

It is to honor them.

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…

Woodrow Wilson, November 1919, commemoration of first Armistice Day, which later became Veterans Day. Russell K. Bond

World War II

Branch of Service: Army Air Corps, 801st/467th Heavy Bomber Group

Time of Service: Oct. 21, 1942 to 1945

Rank at discharge: Tech sergeant

Serving in the military during World War II was more than a duty, it was an honor.

That’s how Swansboro resident Russell K. Bond Sr. recalls his service in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Bond, then 19 years old, joined the armed services in the footsteps of his seven brothers and blazing the trail for a ninth Bond brother to serve his country.

Born in Fond du Lac, Wisc., Bond had a love for radios and becoming a radio operator aboard B-24s seemed natural.

Little did Bond know while training in Boise, Idaho, that he would soon fly 40 total missions in the European Theater before returning home.

Most of 1944 was spent in English airfields flying bomb runs over Germany and occupied France.

Bond flew seven heavy bombardment missions before being assigned to fly top secret missions with a group assembled by the Office of Strategic Services, later to be known as the CIA.

Bond’s top-secret missions were flown with the group known as the Carpetbaggers, an exclusive part of the armed services, flying missions alone and only under the cover of darkness.

“I flew 33 missions with the Carpetbaggers,” Bond recalled. “I was a radio operator on the plane, which next to the pilot was the most important position on the plane. I remember on one mission as we were returning to Harrington but still over France, a German Ju 88 fighter lined up alongside our left wing. I could see the pilot’s eyes, he was that close. We thought he was going to shoot us down but suddenly he peeled off and disappeared. I’ll never forget that.”

The men who served as Carpetbaggers were not allowed to talk about their missions for nearly four decades because of how highly classified they were.

Most of the missions Bond flew were not allowed to be shared upon his safe return home, but he remembers them still.

“The entire channel was covered with ships,” Bond recalled, of a mission flown over the English Channel on June 6, 1944 (D-Day). “We could have walked home.”

Miraculously all nine Bond brothers returned from the war safely, not before their mother placed nine stars representing each son in uniform, into the front window of their home.

Bond is proud and humble about his service and is deeply supportive and proud of those men and women in uniform, particularly, his grandson who is a Navy SEAL.

“We all served. All of my brothers and many of my neighbors from Fond du Lac,” Bond said

Bond was discharged in 1945. He lives in Swansboro with his wife, Marilyn and the couple have been married for 69 years.

Fred Fletcher

Korean and Vietnam wars

Branch of Service: Marine Corps

Time in-country: Nov.-Dec. 1950, 1968

Rank at discharge: Captain

In Fred Fletcher’s 22 years in the Marine Corps he saw a lot of changes happen both within the country as well as within the military.

Fletcher has seen two wars — and some of the most intense conditions in the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War — and the blowback from his own country after returning from Vietnam.

“When I came back from Korea I landed in San Francisco among the first shipload of wounded,” he said. “There was a parade and people and flags everywhere. It was a big blowout.

“Then when I came back from Vietnam it was like sneaking back into the country.”

Fletcher has seen yet another drastic shift in how America views its military, he said. He recalled celebrating Veterans Day with simple recognitions, but nothing like the elaborate parades and ceremonies like today.

It wasn’t until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that he saw America take a true and drastic turn in support of those in uniform, as well as the country as a whole.

“I have seen a big uptick in patriotism of the people in this country,” Fletcher said. “They seem to really know the meaning of Veterans Day. It has been a big change and I don’t see it slowing down as long as we have veterans fighting.”

He respects those who have fought after him and continue to fight today.

“They go through the same things in these wars as we did. It is just as tragic,” he said. “They are putting their lives on the line just like we did. They need to be recognized.”

To this day Fletcher hopes that all other generations understand the true meaning of Veterans Day, looking further than a ‘thank you for your service,’ something that is still difficult for him to find  the proper response to.

“Freedom is not free; it has an expiration,” Fletcher said. “Veterans Day is a reminder of those that have helped fight for that.”

Enrico ‘Rigo’ Dalimonte

Vietnam

Branch of Service: Marine Corps

Time in Country: 1967-68

Rank at Discharge: Gunnery sergeant

Like many Vietnam veterans, Enrico ‘Rigo’ Dalimonte’s service and efforts in the war were not applauded or thanked, until years later.

He remembers being told to blend into society when he got home from deployment, avoiding wearing anything that would distinguish him as a Marine, except for his haircut.

“We are finally starting to get the ‘thank you’ we deserve,” Dalimonte, who served for 20 years, said. “People are starting to look at us as people who were doing our job and not what we were perceived as back then.

“It is a big difference from being spit on and called baby killers.”

Even before he left for Vietnam, Dalimonte remembers his fellow Americans turning their backs on him.

Trying to find a home for his wife and three small children shortly before he left was difficult, he said, no one wanting to rent to him because he was a Marine.

“I happened to be walking around about nine at night one night and saw a place for rent that I hadn’t tried yet,” Dalimonte remembered. “They were the only place that was willing to rent to me and it turned out the owner was a distant relative of my wife’s.”

Deployed with 9th Motor Transport Battalion, Dalimonte remembers the entire time in-country never knowing what the next day would bring, being under fire from the day he ran off the plane to the day he ran to his exiting plane.

From the moment he landed in Dong Ho, he knew his time in Vietnam was going to be one he’d never forget.

“We didn’t get our weapons until we checked into our units,” he recalled. “We got off the plane and immediately started running for a bunker because we were under fire. They weren’t shooting at us, but the plane. There were about 15-20 of us headed to the bunkers. The only person who had a gun only had a .45. I could have kissed every fourth Marine that showed up on the tarmac to chase the (Viet Cong) off.”

Growing up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, patriotism and Veterans Day have always been a part of Dalimonte’s life.

He said while everyone knows what Veterans Day is, they don’t truly understand the importance, especially some of the younger generation,

“A ‘thank you for your service’ service member to service member is one thing, but to hear it from a non-service member, especially a young child that genuinely means it, means a lot more,” he said.

Ed Fletcher

Desert Storm/Shield

Branch of Service: Marine Corps

Time in-country: 1990-1991

Rank at Discharge: Major

For Ed Fletcher, the Marine Corps was his life. Literally.

His father served for 20 years and deployed to Vietnam while he was a child.

He remembers being a child of a Marine deployed during the war.

“It was hard being a kid during Vietnam,” he said. “I fought a lot of fights because of my dad being gone.”

Fletcher eventually chose the Marine Corps as his own future serving for two decades and seeing deployment during the Gulf War, what he called a short war.

Even with a lengthy military resume, Fletcher said Veterans Day is just another day for him and should focus on the men who served before him, creating legacies.

“Veterans Day should be about this country recognizing this incredible generation of men and realizing this country would never be what it is without what they did,” he said gesturing to his father and Dalimonte. “They are a reminder to not take for granted what you have.”

Art Foster

Kosovo/Iraq (Fallujah), Afghanistan

Branch of Service: Marine Corps

Time in Country: 1999, 2004-05, 2013-14

Active duty master sergeant

There was no hesitation for Art Foster when asked which of his three deployments — to Kosovo as part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Iraq during the Battle of Fallujah and tearing down in preparation for leaving Afghanistan — sticks out the most in his mind.

It was the time in Iraq. Foster said Fallujah was like something out of a movie.

“Iraq was what I grew up thinking war was,” he said. “We were in the city, going door to door, shooting the big guns. That time in Fallujah was like, ‘I am really living this now. What I see in the movies.’”

Foster, an active duty Marine who has served for 23 years, remembers his time in Iraq with Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, as feeling like an accomplishment.

After months of general patrols and fighting, Foster remembers as soon as the battle of Fallujah was over providing election site protection for the first free election in the country in many years.

“Iraq really felt like we did something, like we made a difference,” he said. “Even though the election protection was kind of hairy, we still felt like we were freeing people.”

Fallujah is a conflict that will be nestled in history books for decades to come just as the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars are.

Even though Foster has been a part of a legacy in military history, being around the Fletchers and Dalimontes who came before, he said, is still shocking.

“It is very humbling to me to be around these guys,” Foster said. “These were the guys they taught us about in boot camp. These were our heroes. I look at Fred and he is what I strive to be.”

Foster continues to serve in the Marine Corps as part of Combat Logistics Regiment 25 aboard Camp Lejeune.

Veterans Day and being thanked for his service is something Foster hasn’t gotten used to, but always accepts graciously.

“I am always humbled,” Foster said. “What I do is not a sacrifice. It was a choice. I am just like a guy that goes to work to sell cars, or run a business. What I do is the same thing. It is hard to take a ‘thank you’ for going to work.”

Much like the other veterans, Foster felt the drastic shift in the country’s support and importance of being united after Sept. 11.

He has seen an increase in the importance of Veterans Day and he only hopes it continues to increase and the true meaning is upheld.

“The value of freedom is forgotten once you forget what price some people have paid,” Foster said taking a moment to compose himself. “I’ve worked with a lot of people who deserve more than a ‘thank you.’”