Posted at: 05/22/2013 5:03 PM
Updated at: 05/24/2013 11:14 AM
By: Jim Kambrich
NISKAYUNA - The grand marshal of this year’s Memorial Day parade in Albany says we should never pass it off as just another parade.
Col. John Edwards of Niskayuna has a distinguished military career that spans three wars. He says we should always honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
“You're scared as hell. I'm telling you. You don't know what the hell is going to be happening,” Edwards explained.
His wartime memories are as vivid for him today as they were when he was on active duty.
In his long and distinguished career, he served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
He enlisted in the Army Air Corps right out of high school and was trained to be a gunner on a B-24 bomber.
In 1944, his plane was shot down over Germany. After bailing out, he and his crew were quickly surrounded by Nazi troops. Some of his crew were shot and killed. He was taken prisoner.
“And he came behind me and shot me in the leg...right here. I think my suit deflected it. But it hit me on the side of my knee. Boy did I feel that,” he remembered.
He received the Purple Heart for it.
In Korea he was among the first American soldiers to see action in July 1950 as a company commander.
“I was the first one. You know, one of the first ever there. You know, when you do that you've got all the details. Do this, do that. I was a little old second lieutenant back then,” he said.
In 1966 his career took him to Vietnam as a battalion commander assisting naval operations in South Vietnam. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for outstanding achievement, which is among the 18 major awards and decorations he received during his career.
He retired from active duty in the Army in 1972.
Among his many activities these days, Edwards likes to talk to students. He has a very pointed message for them.
“The United States is the greatest country in the world. If you have to defend this country, get out and defend this country. As old as I am, I would still go out,” said Edwards.
He also tells them about the five Fs of the POW -- those things that are ever-present in the mind of a prisoner of war -- fear, faith, food, family and freedom. Not just freedom from the Nazi labor camp, but knowing that he was fighting for freedom -- a message he doesn't want future generations to take for granted.