Veterans Day is not only a time to stop and pay respect to those who have served or are serving America, but for local veterans it’s a time to look back and realize the life experience they gained from serving their country.

Ahwatukee Foothills residents Rich Coplan and Rod Green served our country at very different times, but the lessons they took away are very similar. They matured, learned to respect the experience of others, saw the world, and made friends they will have forever.

Rich Coplan — World War II

Coplan signed up for the U.S. Navy right out of high school, when he was just 17. He served in the Pacific on the U.S.S. Dayton when it was a brand new ship.

“At that time almost every young man felt this was something they wanted to do,” Coplan said. “The idea of not being in military service was looked at as if there was maybe something wrong with you. Everyone who could go into the service, everyone did.”

During World War II Coplan said there was a deep connection felt between those at home and those serving — something that’s missing today.

“In World War II everybody had a friend or a family member or a neighbor serving so there was a personal connection,” he said. “You could walk down the street and every window had a blue or gold star. There was a personal involvement. I think today, because we don’t have a universal draft, there’s such a detachment between people who are out there and the public as a whole.”

Veterans Day, to Coplan, is a time to honor those who have given their time to serve their country. It’s a feeling no one can truly understand until they’ve given the service themselves.

“I believe every young person should give two years of their life for their country,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be in the military. It could be as a teacher’s assistant or in a hospital. It helped me to mature at a large degree.”

Coplan learned during his time in the service to respect men for their experience even if he didn’t care for them personally, which helped later on in his career when he had difficult managers to work for. He also met many different people from around the country, made friends with those who lived in close corridors, and learned how important support for the military is.

“The most important thing was we were all together,” Coplan said. “Everyone in the country had an interest in participating. That’s something we’ve lost today. If the only time you’re going to think about veterans is Memorial Day or when you see the American Legion, that’s not enough.”

Rod Green — Gulf War

Green signed up for the U.S. Air Force in 1975. He’d graduated high school, wasn’t sure what to do in college, and came from a long line of military men. He thought he’d give the Air Force a try for four years and then leave.

Twenty years later he finally retired as a master sergeant.

“I decided I liked it, I was making rank, it’s a good job and good way of life,” Green said. He did fire protection for the Air Force. He’d help with crash rescue and structural fires, but as part of the Air Force he was cross trained in many different areas. Through his 20 years serving Green said he met some great people, including his wife, Nancy.

“People in the military are phenomenal,” he said. “Each base is like Hometown USA. That sounds corny, but it’s a real small-town feel. I just felt like I had a home.”

When Green left the military in 1995 he began to learn more about American Legion and all the group has done for veterans since its formation in 1912. He joined in the early 2000s and spent three years as the commander of Post 64. He’s currently the vice commander.

“I joined to give back,” Green said. “There’s this picture of the American Legion as the good ol’ boys who sit at bars and smoke and drink. People don’t look at what they actually do and where the money goes to help lobby for veterans. I thought I’d join and not really get involved, but that my dues would go to something good. But I went and got involved and really enjoyed just giving back to the community.”

When Green reflects on Veterans Day he looks not only at his own service but at the service of his grandfather in World War II and many others who have served in the past.

“It really just makes you reflect on this country and what it means to be an American and all the sacrifices that were made for us to have the freedoms we do today,” he said. “When you join the military, most people don’t have any idea what they’re doing. They join and most come away, even after just four years, with something more than themselves. These people served not for themselves but for their country. I always looked at the military as the last true civil servants. There’s not a lot of pay, you have to do what you’re told, and there are some super people you meet.”

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