Veterans Day voices from Southern California

Navy veteran Sale Lilly (right) with his translator during a deployment to Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2011.
Navy veteran Sale Lilly (right) with his translator during a deployment to Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2011.
Courtesy of Sale Lilly

Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, with a 1919 proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson marking the day combat ceased between Allied forces and Germany during World War I. Lawmakers replaced "Armistice" with "Veterans" in 1954, creating a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

In 2017, Veterans Day falls on Saturday. States and federal offices around the U.S. are observing the holiday on Friday, Nov. 10.

To mark the holiday, KPCC spoke with Southern California veterans about their memories from the time they served. Here are three of their stories.

Sale Lilly

Sale Lilly was an officer in the Navy for eight years. He served a tour in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012, when U.S. forces were focused on retaking territory in southwest Helmand province. One objective was to push the Taliban out of poppy growing areas in an attempt to cut off an important funding source for the group.

Americans worked closely with local counterparts to achieve these goals, Lilly said. He still worries about the local Afghan officials who assisted U.S. forces in providing security, but then saw the bulk of American troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.

"There's 16 years of promises wrapped into working with local Afghans who counted on Americans being there," Lilly said. "It keeps me up at night. It keeps me thinking about what happened to those people after we left." 

He added: "Because Afghanistan is difficult to understand, and has many different ethnic compositions that drive the insurgency, it doesn't yield itself to easy solutions." He believes that's one reason why the American public isn't intensely focused on the war.

During a gathering of Afghanistan war veterans on the 16th anniversary of U.S. combat operations, Lilly said a political framework is necessary to solidify the military's tactical victories.

"That's what worries me," he said. "We may achieve gains in 2017 and 2018, and we may be back here at the 20th anniversary of the war, still wondering why there wasn't a political solution."

Pam Richardson

During a routine water delivery in the Green Zone in Baghdad, Pam Richardson was involved in a serious accident. A truck ran into a group of people, including Richardson, and pinned her against the back of another truck. Her legs were both amputated, although one was successfully reattached. She also has a spinal cord injury.

The Army veteran attended an event last month at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center called a Stand Down, aimed at helping homeless and low-income vets connect with benefits. She said her economic situation is precarious, and she often has to look in dumpsters for food. 

"All in all, if I'd known it was going to happen this way, I'd still have gone in," Richardson said of her time in the Army. "Because I still believe everyone should serve their country."

Dyan Jackson

While sitting for a manicure at the West L.A. VA Stand Down, Dyan Jackson, 34, said she used to decipher code as a Navy cryptologic technician, collecting and analyzing enemy communications.

"I was in intelligence. That's all I can say," said Jackson, who served during the Second Gulf War.

She remembers being stationed in Italy as a teenager, traveling overseas for the first time and sampling the languages and cultures of Europe.

"We were never rich, so me going overseas? I would have never been able to do that without the military," Jackson said. "Now I can tell my daughters, 'You should go here! You should go there!' Because I've been a lot of places."