At just 18 years old, William H. Snow -- who spent his entire life in a small town -- left his ordinary life in the United States in 1975 to serve in Korea as a member of the U.S. Army for 13 months. He bloomed into adulthood in the middle of tense conflicts, some of which were deadly, that unraveled at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a no man's land established after the Korean War.
He also took part in Operation Paul Banyan, a show-of-force operation by the American and South Korean forces in response to the killing of two U.S. soldiers in the zone by North Korean soldiers in 1976.
"We thought we would go to war again. But it cooled down," Snow, chair of Palo Alto University's counseling program, shared in an interview with the Weekly.
Snow told his story as the sun set on grassy King Plaza in front of Palo Alto City Hall on Monday afternoon before a few dozen people gathered for the city's annual Veterans Day ceremony. Now in its fourth year, the event kicked off with introductory remarks from Mayor Liz Kniss and the Palo Alto Police Department Honor Guard carrying flags as part of its presentation of colors. The 10th Avenue Band livened up the event, playing the "Armed Forces Salute" as veterans and current military members proudly stood to the audience's applause when their branch of service's tune was played.
In his speech as this year's guest speaker, Snow discussed the intersection between the military and education.
He said when the GI Bill was signed in 1944, some educators were afraid of how former soldiers would perform in higher education. In the following years, however, the most "ambitious educational experiment in American history" was dubbed "the best class the country has ever produced," Snow quoted from articles published at the time in Time and Fortune magazines, respectively.
"These veterans did actually pretty well. The military teaches that you can accomplish a lot more than you can think about," Snow said to the audience.
He returned to the U.S. from Korea to obtain his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in social welfare. His self-doubts of being able to thrive in higher education were long gone after serving in the Army. His time in the military put him and his fellow soldiers through many challenging tasks, such as operating equipment worth millions of dollars, taking the military skill test and sleeping on dirt.
After graduating with his doctorate from the University of Washington, he would go on to serve in the Army for another 26 years from 1988 to 2014, becoming a recipient of 21 federal state ribbons and medals.
Snow, in his remarks, also discussed the growing veteran population from the Gulf War, and shared "seven positive veteran attitudes," which spoke on important values veterans live by, such as trust, loyalty, teamwork, great leadership, timeliness and gratitude.
"I encourage you to honor them. ... Please no sympathy, just gratitude," Snow said.
The event also featured the creators of the Veterans Day 2017 Collaborative Comic Book Project -- Danièle Archambault, Paloma Lucas and Servane Briand -- who presented a special gift to veterans. Within a large container embellished with a handwritten message "Thank You For Your Service" were three books titled "Stories," "Memories" and "Imageries" that contained 90 pages of messages for veterans from members of the community of all ages.
One of the pages, created by writer Lydia Kim Soong, is titled "What Veterans mean to me." She shared the story of her grandparents, North Korean refugees who fled with their young child before borders closed.
Along with three illustrations drawn in pen, her message states, "Although the war was dire at times, the U.S. & U.N. armies prevailed... making South Korea the free democracy it is today. Thank you U.S. veterans for giving us our freedom."
Another illustration is dedicated to Palo Alto resident Alan Nichols, a 1914 Paly alumnus who died in France from injuries in an air battle four years after graduation. For one of the creators of the comic book project, Nichols' story felt personal as her son graduated from the high school in 2014, exactly 100 years after Nichols.
The 10th Avenue Band rounded out the program by playing "Stars and Stripes Forever," upholding the patriotic mood of the ceremony.
The stories and messages resonated with Redwood City resident Albert Lobo.
"It's a nice event to honor all the veterans, and it encourages future, younger generations to serve in the military," said Lobo, who was worked as an electrician's mate second-class on the USS Fort McHenry from 1986 to 1990. "It's nice to share all the stories."