SOLANA BEACH — When Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Hall was preparing his speech for the annual Veterans Day ceremony at La Colonia Park, he asked his son Peter, who served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army, for his thoughts.
“Being a vet means I’ve got some scars,” Hall told his father. “Some you can see. Others you can’t. But I helped change the world and destroy evil, so I’ll take the scars.”
That is one of many reasons Veterans Day is personal for Hall.
“My father served so I know what it’s like to have him gone and in harm’s way,” he said. “My service was a calling and I know how hard it is to leave your family.
“Later on one of the hardest things I had to endure was seeing Peter go into harm’s way,” he added. “It would have been easier for me to be going into combat.”
While Memorial Day is reserved for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, Hall said Veterans Day honors “those who are still with us.”
In fact, he said he purposely wore his combat uniform rather than his service dress to celebrate life.
“Congratulations,” he said to the veterans attending the event. “We made it. We were blessed to serve this great nation. But we were scared and proud at the same time. Getting shot at is scary. It’s not fun.”
Hall said his first tactical aircraft was the A-10 Warthog, designed to destroy enemy tanks and armor.
“The A-10 had no two-seat models so the first time you flew it you were by yourself,” he said. “As I walked out for that first flight I said to myself, ‘Surely they’re not going to let this 23-year-old second lieutenant fly this thing by himself.
“But they did,” he added. “Six months later I was in Iraq and was one of the first units into Saudi Arabia after Saddam (Hussein) invaded Kuwait.”
Adding to the tension, his commander told the squadron they would be flying at night.
“The A-10 was designed as a clear-day fighter,” Hall said. “We had no night-vision goggles, nothing that gave us the ability to fly at night. So we had to make up our own tactics. It turns out he was spot on because we all came home.”
Hall said during that and his other more than 60 missions he learned “how important protecting our nation truly is.”
“America’s veterans all share a common bond — their belief in our freedom, a belief so strong they were willing to give their lives, if needed, in its defense,” he said. “They are all heroes and they are why we are here today.
“A person cannot be anything but awed by what they have accomplished and what they have seen,” Hall added. “Our country is great because of you.”
Hall also paid tribute to the family members and friends of service members.
“While we were away you lived through difficult times and you were keeping the home fires burning,” he said. “Thank you.”
Hall also stressed the importance of thanking veterans for their service and keeping their stories alive.
“Our veterans have missed the births of their children, wedding anniversaries and graduations,” he said. “They have spent holidays in soggy rice paddies in Vietnam, amid the stinging sands of the Iraqi desert and in the cold and rugged mountains of Eastern Europe.
“In fact, when our son was in Fallujah he asked us to send him flea collars because it would help him sleep better,” he said. “Our veterans are living examples of what it means to be good citizens.”
Hall said there are many ways to show veterans appreciation.
“Buy them a beer,” he said. “Secretly pay for lunch. Or simply say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ It will mean more to them than you know.”
The Nov. 11 event, co-hosted by the city and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5431, was attended by VFW members representing all branches of the military, several former Solana Beach mayors, County Supervisor Dave Roberts, the Camp Pendleton Young Marines and area residents.
“This tradition is a treasured one … to let our veterans know their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten and never be taken for granted,” Mayor Lesa Heebner said.
The Santa Fe Christian High School band performed patriotic songs and the private school’s new dance troupe performed to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
The ceremony ended with the release of white doves.