FREDERICK, Md. — An Army draft letter that Ed Moser's mother opened in March 1966 sealed the Middletown High School graduate's fate.
Moser, then 18, was waiting with a friend for two spots to open so they could join the Air Force together. His recruiter directed him not to open any letters from the Army, instructing him to bring the letter to him instead.
Signing up for the Air Force would have trumped an unopened draft letter, Moser said.
“Mom was just curious, I guess,” Moser said, sitting in his living room in the Rohrersville house he shares with his wife, Darlene.
Moser, first vice president of the AMVETS Post 9 in Middletown, served nine months in Vietnam helping to determine helicopter weight loads.
As millions of Americans fire up grills or hit the road this holiday weekend to mark the unofficial start to summer, some area veterans say they are proud and happy that their service gives people the freedom to celebrate.
More than 18,000 veterans call Frederick County home out of about 444,000 vets across Maryland and 22.2 million nationwide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey from 2007 to 2011.
“For me, Memorial Day is to remember the ones who gave their lives for us,” said Jeffrey Mueller, a retired Navy corpsman.
Mueller's 21 years of service included combat tours in Kuwait during the Gulf War and a tour in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
'Why can't we do more?'
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. An organization of Union veterans established Memorial Day three years after the end of the Civil War in 1868 as a day to decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs website.
“I think about the veterans more on Memorial Day than probably on any other day of the year,” Moser said.
Moser's daughter is a psychologist who works at a Department of Veteran's Affairs hospital in Erie, Pa. She has shared with him stories of some veterans' desperation. He wants the VA to cut through its backlog to reduce the wait time for former soldiers to receive benefits for which they're eligible.
“Why can't we do more for our veterans?” Moser asked.
That's a sentiment Mueller shares. He is working on a master's degree in social work at the University of Maryland and intends to help serve veterans.
Mueller suffers from post traumatic stress as the result of his service and brings Sparky, his service dog, with him most places. He worries society will place undue expectations on younger veterans returning from today's wars while their counterparts might just be graduating from college, he said.
“As a society, we're so cut off from the military, we don't understand these kids.”
Joshua Staub, of Myersville, followed his younger brother and father into the Marines. A 1999 Middletown High School graduate, Staub joined in 2004 and served five years, including a deployment to Afghanistan. He ran a hydraulic shop on a large post in Kandahar and is now working on a master's degree in business administration at Mount St. Mary's University under the GI Bill.
“Select few people join to make sure that everyone else doesn't have to,” Staub said. “We've done the dirty work to keep the United States the United States.”
Some veterans face anxiety upon their return to civilian life, Staub said.
“The pace of civilian life versus military life is vastly different,” Staub said. “In the military, it's go, go, go.”
Sharon Jacko, interim CEO of Heartly House, a Frederick agency for victims of domestic violence, served 26 years as a Marine and deployed to Iraq for seven months in 2004.
A lot of people forget that women serve, too, Jacko said. Of Frederick County's veterans, about 8.4 percent are female, according to census figures.
Jacko retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2008 and found herself struggling to reconnect with extended family until she realized she was suffering from PTSD.
“When female vets arrive home, they have to walk right back into taking care of their children, taking care of their family and don't even have time to seek help,” Jacko said.
Jacko wants more federal funding to prevent homelessness among vets, she said, and she hopes public awareness of problems with sexual assault within the armed forces leads to demands for real change.
Robert Miles, of Middletown, and Bob Mount, of Lewistown, served in the Korean War. Mount was 18 when he got sent to Korea. Troops were ill-prepared for fighting there because of the military drawdown after World War II, Mount said.
Mount and Miles worry that Korea is overlooked and they spend time trying to raise awareness about the war, which began in 1950 and continued until an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.
Mount, treasurer of the Korean War Veteran's Association of Frederick County, visits local schools to speak about the war. Miles is the interim commander of KWVA. The organization will have a float Monday in the Woodsboro parade, Miles said.
“It wasn't called a war until 1995,” Mount said, adding that until then, the federal government recognized it only as a “police action.”
“The Korean war stopped the spread of communism,” Mount said.