Keynote speaker retired Col. Stephan Kaftan took Midland students along his personal journey during the district’s Veterans Day Assembly, which despite the two-hour delay to the start of the school day, started at its normally scheduled time of 11:15.
While the holiday was a chance to honor all veterans, Kaftan took the opportunity to thank one specifically.
“I particularly want to thank my dad, Stanley Kaftan. I never got a chance too,” he said.
The younger Kaftan recounted how his father dropped out of high school prior to receiving his diploma to enlist. During World War II, he arrived in Europe in time for the Battle of the Bulge and was still in the service during the liberation of Europe.
Post-war, he served as translator during the Nuremburg trials before participating in the amphibious landing at the Battle of Inchon during the Korean War and helped recapture Seoul. While speaking, Kaftan pointed to the vest resting up against the lectern that his father wore entering Korea. His father also led troops during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, earning a United States Army Commendation Medal.
Kaftan himself served in Vietnam and retired just last year, having last served at the New Mexico Military Institute. He still remembers when his parents came to New York to pick him up returning home for leave from Vietnam.
“As we were walking to my parents’ vehicle, a woman came up to me. She didn’t welcome me home,” he said, describing how she called him names and spit upon his shoe. “As veterans of the Vietnam conflict, we fought in a war that deeply divided our nation.”
While veterans come from all walks of life, they are linked by the same qualities, like duty and self-sacrifice.
“Very few CEOs or Ivy League graduates have experienced what a 21-year-old squad leader faces in a fire fight,” Kaftan said. “Veterans know better than anyone else the cost of freedom.”
After the ceremony, veterans and their families were treated to a meal by the members of the Midland National Honor Society, who put on the ceremony with assistance from members of the local American Legion posts.