By Chinta Strausberg
Every day is Veterans Day, according to Rev. Donald Meeks, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Chaplin for the State of Illinois who served in the Navy for 21 years.
Meeks, who attended a Veterans Day recognition breakfast at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters Saturday, said he worked as a hydraulic specialist on the flight deck as a coordinator, maintaining aircraft and training new recruits or graduates of a technical school.
Coming from a single-family home, Meeks said his mother signed him into the Navy at the age of 17 to escape the gangs. “I tried to escape fears of the streets of Chicago,” he said referring to Englewood where he grew up. A graduate of Simeon High School, Meeks worked in a shoe store at 63rd and Halsted.
“I found there were a lot of challenges on the street just trying to do the right thing; so I decided if I were to die, I may as well get paid for it with benefits. I had no benefits on the street. The gangs were after me. That was part of the challenge.”
When Meeks worked at the Father & Son Shoe store in the late 1960’s, he said gangbangers “would come in the store, snatch shoes right off the shelf and look right at you like they dared you to say anything.
“I had to walk home from 63rd and Halsted to 61st and Aberdeen,” he said. “My boss never gave me a ride; so I didn’t say a mumbling word because I was not going to die over a $15 pair of shoes that didn’t belong to me.”
When he was in high school, Meeks said he didn’t see many opportunities in Chicago, which is why he asked his mother to sign for me to join the U.S. Navy. He chose the field of Aviation as his occupation.
“I don’t regret one minute of it,” Meeks said explaining how it gave him an opportunity to see other parts of the world and to see how other people lived. “It broaden my scope, my vision. I wanted to get to another level.”
When asked what does Veterans Day mean to him, Meeks said, “Everyday is Veterans Day because many men and women who have donned the uniform paid the ultimate price by giving their life.
“If they didn’t give their life, they gave a limb. They gave their sanity. They gave a family because many who went to war left with families intact, but when they came back, they couldn’t find them.”
And, because it was the Vietnam era, Meeks said when the veterans came home; there was a lot of controversy. “There were no marching bands, no pat on the backs, no jobs, no opportunities and a lot of us came back with psychological disorders. We got very little in return. Being in the Navy was challenging because every day I wondered if I would return home.
“Things that were promised to us for the service we provided were taken away by government officials who never donned a uniformed and didn’t know what it meant to put yourself in harms way. Every day is Veterans Day,” said Meeks. “The greatest compliment that a person who donned a uniform especially those who went to war could receive is a simple thank you.”