Friday, December 19, 2014

Invasion still lands intense emotion at 70th

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 6/6/2014

It frustrates Ernest Garcia. It even makes him angry.

The idea that many Americans don’t recognize D-Day’s significance troubles the retired U.S. Marine deeply, Garcia told a large crowd gathered at Neosho County Community College, 900 E. Logan St., Ottawa, for the monthly First Friday Forum.

It frustrates Ernest Garcia. It even makes him angry.

The idea that many Americans don’t recognize D-Day’s significance troubles the retired U.S. Marine deeply, Garcia told a large crowd gathered at Neosho County Community College, 900 E. Logan St., Ottawa, for the monthly First Friday Forum.

“I’m afraid to know, to learn, how many people don’t know what D-Day is,” he said Friday, the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion known to many as “D-Day.” “That frustrates me, that angers me, because if we forget what happened 70 years ago today, I’m afraid for us. I’m afraid we’re going to lose that love and that respect and that dedication and that commitment to being an American and to fight for it. It’s not easy. It’s hard. There’s a lot of sacrifice.”

Garcia, who served in the U.S. Marines for 40 years and now is a colonel with the Kansas Highway Patrol, was drafted into the military while a student at the University of Kansas in 1966, he said. His first assignment during the Vietnam War was to clean fighter jets with a bucket of water and a brush, he said.

“As I look back now, those menial tasks are what helped form my character later on in life, and that is to work hard, to work as a team, to understand the mission, dedication, commitment, and more importantly, the love of country,” Garcia said. “I always felt that my service in the Marine Corps was not about necessarily being a marine in uniform and all that comes with it, but service for my country. I felt that from day one and all the way today wearing this [Kansas Highway Patrol] uniform.”

Although he started with humble beginnings, Garcia’s career ran the gamut, from the Marines to positions throughout the military, including chief of police for the U.S. Senate and deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense.

“[I went from] washing airplanes to negotiating for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Manuel Noriega when he took over Panama,” Garcia said.

Although Garcia wants people to remember the veterans who served during World War II and other U.S. wars, he also hopes the public remembers those who stayed on the homefront while soldiers were away to serve their country.

“Don’t forget there are a lot of folks back home that deserve the credit and support,” Garcia said. “My wife, I don’t know if I would have made it without Amy. Because I knew back home she was taking care of things and I didn’t have to worry about it. Some guys I knew worried about it and they didn’t do well. In fact, some of them lost their lives because they were worried; they weren’t paying attention; they weren’t focusing on the mission. For those of you who have been here back home supporting your loved one who is fighting for this country, thank you. We couldn’t do it without you.”

Garcia’s greatest achievement is an easy answer, he said.

“When people ask me, ‘What’s the highlight of your professional career?’ Without question, I answer with no hesitation, I say it was being able to call myself a United States Marine,” Garcia said. “To be able to do that, and to be able to protect this great country of ours on your behalf, is the greatest honor and greatest privilege I have known in my life.”

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