“To the class of 2014, I leave you here with a few words,” he said during Monday’s Veterans Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“The world is not all flowers and rainbows.
“It is an ugly world out there.
“When it kicks you in the face—and it will—don’t blame anyone for your falls.
“Get back up on your feet and keep moving forward.”
His words echoed through the stands filled with community members and Jones High students.
This is the first year that the school partnered with the Garden Club to host this event.
He reminded all those there that this day was to honor and say thanks to the servicemen who fought for America’s freedoms.
“You see, most of our veterans have scars inside that you never see from the outside,” he said. “In war there is no such thing as an unwounded soldier.”
But, he reminded, people should not forget that it is not just the soldier fighting oversees—it is his family who bears the burden of that fight.
“The reality is, it is American families that go to war,” he said. “I am one of many that has gotten through these long deployments by depending on family.”
Varra joined the Marines after graduating Jones High in 1992. He then enlisted in the Army in 1997.
“We should use Veterans Day to honor our nation’s military heroes,” he said. “Our military heroes are not rich and famous.
“Most people today think we don’t have any heroes or role models and that there is not anyone to look up to.”
He looked out across the audience — his eyes once again turned upwards toward the students who sat in the upper most part of the stands.
He told those youths to take the time to ask their parents, their grandparents or anyone sitting there at the table with them that evening about their military service.
“Ask them about their stories,” he said. “Ask them what they did.
“Hear their stories.
“We need to thank them for their service to our country.”
And for them, what they saw will never be forgotten as it still lingers in the back of their minds.
He shared just such a story.
“While deployed to Bosnia in 1990s, I had a Croatian interpreter attached to my unit,” he said.
“He said, ‘Varra, do you think NATO will stay around for some time?’”
Varra could provide no reassurance. His authority and knowledge were understandably limited.
The man, though, knew what would happen if their country was abandoned by the military—and it was something he wasn’t going to endure.
“He said he would go ahead and kill his family and then kill himself,” Varra said, his voice now softening as that hardened military persona crumbled before the crowd.
“He went on to tell me he would not live through another war and let his family go through it again.
“He said, ‘Imagine living in fear every day.’
“‘I won’t do it again.’
“Some days, I still think about him.
“And I wonder how he is doing.”
Varra removed his glasses and paused a moment—a chance to recompose.
“I was only in Bosnia for a few months, and it changed me forever,” he said.
“Seeing pits of dead bodies and the smell of death in the air does something to a man,” he continued.
“I cannot imagine living in fear every day and wondering if my family were next.
“This is just one of many things that our veterans keep fighting every day to keep our country safe.
“You see, evil doesn’t stay in one area. It goes out and hunts.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.