Retired Army Sgt. Zachary Wyant explicitly remembers one assignment from his elementary school days. His class was asked the question, “What country would you like to visit one day?” Without hesitation, Wyant answered “Afghanistan.”
If Wyant could travel back in time, he’d tell his younger self to choose a different country. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks in New York, and mere months after enlisting in the Army, Wyant was deployed to Afghanistan to serve in the War on Terror.
Though he was forced to break a promise made to his mother at a Greyhound bus depot in King of Prussia, one that assured her he’d be home for Christmas that year, Wyant gained a lifetime’s worth of wisdom, especially an understanding of why men and women of the armed forces choose to put their lives on the line.
On Sunday, Nov. 10, dozens of locals listened to Wyant’s chilling story, which surely caused a tear or two to shed. He was the keynote speaker at Northampton Township’s annual Veterans Day ceremony, held on the grounds of the Administration Building.
Organized by the township’s Veterans Advisory Commission, the event was attended by area veterans and their family and friends, community members and local officials, including Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, Rep. Wendi Thomas, District Attorney Matthew Weintraub, Sen. Tommy Tomlinson’s staffer Nick Diasio, and supervisors Adam Selisker, Kim Rose and Frank O’Donnell.
The ceremony was officiated by Army veteran Dave Reese, who shared striking statistics. Currently, there are 18.2 million veterans living in the United States, which is 7.5 percent of the population. In Pennsylvania, he said there are 840,000 veterans.
The national anthem was sung by Lisa Garner and the invocation given by Doug Fulford. Once the Color Guard was provided by Patriot Detachment 1230 Marine Corps League, Reese introduced Wyant, who served in the Army from March 2001 to summer of 2009. He finished with the rank of “sergeant” and, once home, enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard.
Raised by two patriotic parents (his father is a Vietnam War veteran), Wyant reflected on how he always dreamed of someday joining the armed forces.
“Every Memorial Day, I would accompany my father to the grave of Richboro native and Army Infantryman Harry Wilson as members of the VFW honored his ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. As a child, I didn’t quite understand this honorable ceremony that was taking place and continues to take place until this day. But I felt a calling to serve and follow in the footsteps of heroes,” Wyant said. “See, growing up, my heroes weren’t athletes. They weren’t movie stars. They were more than that.”
Wyant was intrigued by the selflessness of veterans and how they could lay down their lives for total strangers. He would soon comprehend why.
At 21 years old, Wyant entered the military during peacetime. But after the trajectory of America changed forever on Sept. 11, 2001, he found himself on the other side of the world in the heart of brutal combat.
“This was more than for love of one’s country. This was for more than the flag. This was more than all the naive childhood dreams I once had. We would return from Afghanistan now knowing the answers to those questions, the real reason why men facing battle do what they do,” he said. “The bonds that are formed in war are like no other. We’re all in it together. It doesn’t matter your race, your sexuality, your religion or your social standing.”
According to Wyant, what did matter was each person’s willingness to fight to the death for one another. That was the key to surviving and returning home to loved ones.
“It was no longer about the patriotic duty. It was no longer about those who came before us. It was literally about the guys to the left, the guys to the right, and the guys coming to save you,” he said. “This is why men do what they do at a time of war, and this is why the bonds are unbreakable.”
The ceremony concluded with the unveiling of 17 new Veterans Memorial Bricks, and all guests were invited inside the Administration Building for refreshments.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org