A veteran is a man or woman who has served as a member of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or Marines. Traditionally used to describe those who served in combat, especially those who served for an entire career under arms, “veteran” status may be applied for anyone who has been on active duty, regardless of the duration or combat experience. James “Jim” Laskey spent 20 years in active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, always in or close to the action and having a hand in shaping the history of this country. He has no problem qualifying as a true veteran in anybody’s vocabulary.

Enlisting in 1960, Jim was assigned to sea school and joined the fleet, serving aboard the USS Essex aircraft carrier. Less than a year later, when the suborbital Mercury spacecraft was brought aboard after the first American in space splashed down, Jim Laskey was the spit-and-polish Marine who escorted the silver-clad astronaut Alan Shepard to the captain’s cabin after he was pried out of the famous “Freedom 7” space capsule. Jim was on board when the Essex was the anti-submarine warfare hub of the armanda blockading Cuba as America and Russia hovered on the brink of thermonuclear war. Prepared to deploy and fight, Jim never knew that both land-based and submarine-launched nuclear missiles and torpedoes targeted the fleet to oppose an invasion.

He then went to the Second Marine Division, serving as a Browning 1919A4 machine gunner, flamethrower operator and BAR gunner as well as what every other Marine that has ever worn the eagle, globe and anchor are first and foremost—a rifleman. The experience served him well; in a few years, he was promoted and became an NCO facing the challenge of leading Marines in the very unconventional war in Vietnam.

In 1966, Jim went to Vietnam as part of the 1st Marine Division in 1 Corps at Chu Lai, but he deployed all over the country. Once, when he landed at Anh Wa in the middle of a firefight and was running off the C-123 aircraft, he watched as a Navy A-6 Intruder dropped a load of ordnance so close that he could see the pilot looking back at him as his lieutenant passed him, headed for the nearest shelter! After Vietnam, Laskey had postings in Okinawa, Portsmouth and Pearl Harbor as a recruiter, corrections supervisor and Drill Instructor. He was also part of the Marine Corps competitive shooting team, which honed his marksmanship and love of firearms that he enjoys today. His last assignments in the USMC were at Quantico, where he retired. Laskey had journalists from the Washington Post and a photographer from National Geographic cover his unit (and retirement) in order to divert their attention and ensure that the special operations warriors returning from the unsuccessful raid to release the American hostages in Iran would remain undetected as they landed and recovered at Camp Upshur from Operation Eagle Claw.

Laskey retired from active duty as a first sergeant in 1980 and, as part of the Marine Corps League that he joined while still on active duty, he was elected to various leadership and board of director positions, culminating as commandant between 2008 and 2010. Jim maintains an active lifestyle, helping out the League as well as other Marine-focused organizations like the Young Marines, where he helped out at their annual golf tournament at the Medal of Honor Course at Quantico as part of the annual Modern Day Marine Exposition. Jim is a huge supporter of veterans, men and women and non-Marines alike, and noted, “Nobody ever joined the service for the money, but for the service and out of loyalty to your country. When I came back from Vietnam, we had a lot of problems with people who didn’t like the war and took it out on the troops. Vietnam vets are determined that people coming back today don’t face that kind of treatment. As a result, we support the Wounded Warriors and other organizations that support the younger vets coming home.”

Jim continued, “When kids today come back, the American public should not only thank them but employ them, because today’s warfighter are very technically orientated and are great leaders—that all transfers directly to civilian jobs. They will be very dedicated and loyal to the company, as they understand duty and honor better than most. “As a veteran, I realize that these kids deserve a push, a break to succeed after the service. My glory days are over, but these veterans, some with wounds and PTSD, should have the opportunity to use the experiences that they learned the hard way to better themselves and our country. “Thanking a veteran is great for a day. Offering that person a job gives thanks for years.”

On this Veterans Day, asks America to not only thank our veterans, but to also consider their service when one is sitting before you with an employment application in hand and a smile on their face. They have earned the right.

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