Traveling across the country on a motorcycle at the age of 90, WWII Veteran Bruce Heilman was one of three guest speakers during College of the Ozarks “A Patriotic Tribute - A Soldier’s Journey” event Monday morning.
College of the Ozarks President Jerry Davis welcomed students and community members who gathered at Veterans Grove outside the campus to recognize and hear the journeys from three veterans: Bryan Cizek, Bob Sarver, and Bruce Heilman.
“It is our goal to acknowledge and recognize all who served, whether World War II, Korea, Vietnam or the Persian (Gulf War),” Davis said.
This is the second time Heilman has motorcycled across the country to promote awareness on behalf of veterans, those who have served the country, and a foundation by Woody Williams, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the battle of Iwo Jima, according to Davis.
“And (the Woody Williams) foundation is promoting the building of memorials in all states to honor Gold Star families. Those would be families who lost a son or daughter in these armed conflicts,” Davis said.
Heilman served in the South Pacific and in Japan during World War II. Davis said he has received many honors and has been a successful educator, being a part of many universities, military academies, and currently serves as chancellor for the University of Richmond.
“He is probably one of the most distinguished educators living today, having accomplished so much at age 90,” Davis said.
Additionally, he is a published author with his book called “An Interruption That Lasted a Lifetime.”
Davis said Heilman continues to be a great friend to C of O.
“He’s been a special friend to this school, and as he drives his motorcycle all over the United States and travels all over the world, we know that he will spread good word about Hard Work U,” Davis said.
Heilman spoke about the worthiness of serving the country.
“No matter when you’ve served, where you’ve served, the fact that you did serve, there’s no greater feeling of pride and self-worth than to stand for your country,” Heilman said.
Heilman discussed qualities the military brings out in soldiers.
“The respect the military brings, not only in the essence of what it’s all about, fighting wars, but you know the ethical mission to us all represented by the military is important,” Heilman said.
“There are no more people anywhere respected than in the military.”
Heilman said he has pride for the men and women who tended the jobs that were left behind by soldiers during the war, he said.
“When I was in the military, back home somebody had to milk those cows that I left,” Heilman said.
“The women took over so that the whole world was responding (to WWII) and the men back home were doing things that had to be done- essential services we call it. There’s pride in that.”
Heilman said C of O is an institution that represents God and country. Seeing the flags fly on the campus made him feel good, he said.
“Thank you for the leadership that you provide here with all your staff, thank you for your students for what you represent, (and) thank you for having this program,”Heilman.
Heilman said his next stop was Oklahoma City.
Cizek is a combat veteran and former Army ranger who served three tours of duty in operation Iraqi Freedom, one tour of duty in operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and 23 months in combat. He also participated in special operations along with the Navy in the war on terrorism. Davis said he was a recipient of 15 different medals and decorations.
Soon, Davis said he will be more involved with C of O.
“As most of you know, he is making a transition this year to be director of patriotic activities at the college and the travel program,” Davis said.
Cizek said Monday’s event was about honoring the journeys of those who are currently serving and have previously served.
“This journey requires sacrifice and commitment,” Cizek said.
“We were called to sacrifice and commit a brief period of lives to serve a cause greater than ourselves. In return, all that serve are rewarded with an experience that will forever shape and mold the very person that we are today.”
Cizek said he is grateful for the life experiences he acquired throughout his time serving.
“All veterans are gratified when they hear those words ‘thank you for your service,’” Cizek said.
“But honestly, we are the ones thankful to serve. I am thankful to have served. When I hear those words, I think to myself, ‘you have no idea how blessed we are to be able to serve this nation. How blessed I was to be have been able to serve,’” Cizek said.
His perspective of life changed forever after his time in military.
“After operating in the mountains of Afghanistan in the winter, in sub-zero temperatures night after night, after flying in a (helicopter) with our doors open when it’s 30 below zero, it’s hard for me to say that I’m ever cold again,” Cizek said.
“After ranger’s school and experiencing food and sleep deprivation, I can’t say that I’m ever hungry or tired again.”
His previous experiences have set him up for what lies ahead.
“This journey that I’ve had during training, during my combat experiences in Iraq, during my combat experiences in Afghanistan, has prepared me for my current journey today.” Cizek said.
Good and bad memories, and visible and nonvisible battle scars are what help mold those for their journeys they are on now, he said.
“But it is both the good and the bad that shaped the people we are today and the journey that all of us are now on.”
Sarver was drafted into the Vietnam War right before he decided to take a break from college. After basic and advanced infantry training, he was trained in logistics.
Sarver said he arrived in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, in 1967.
“Now the first logistical command was the unit that was responsible for making sure that everyone got what they needed, that every Marine got what they needed.
“So we did the supply for everyone in the area, so it was a pretty daunting task,” Sarver said.
Sarver said how thankful he was to come home without any major injuries.
“I was so blessed that God allowed me to return home relatively (unharmed), although there were many times it could’ve been a lot different.”
When he returned home, Sarver said his emotional scars from the war did not heal right away, due to how Vietnam veterans were treated at that time.
“And it wasn’t until I set my feet back on the ground in the United States of America and saw how we were being treated, and how we were being received, that the scars really hit.
“I had no physical scars, the emotional scars that a lot of us still carry was because of the way we were treated when we got home,” Sarver said.
Although it was difficult, Sarver said he kept his emotions to himself and went back to college.
“So I had to protect myself and didn’t talk about it at all with my family or my children because of those emotional scars,” Sarver said.
In 2006, Sarver joined the Vietnam Veterans for America Chapter 913, which has helped him start the healing process.
“I have since served two terms as the chapter’s vice president, and two terms as the president. I am now presently their public relations director.
Also helping his healing process, he said, was teaching his children and grandchild the proper way to thank veterans for their service.
“I’ve spent so many years teaching my children and my grandchildren to, every time they see a veteran, make sure you salute them and you thank them for their service, and you welcome them home.”
Davis said Sarver was heavily involved with the designation and construction of the Vietnam Memorial on C of O’s campus.
“It is so nice to walk this campus and see and experience the patriotic, the moral, the Christian attitudes that come from all faculty, staff, and students. God bless this campus for doing that,” Sarver said.