Mr. Michael L. Horstman ’60, who served Norfolk Academy for more than three decades, as a teacher, coach, and Assistant Director of the Middle School, returned to his alma mater on Friday to deliver an Upper School chapel talk on what came before teaching—service to the nation.
A West Point graduate, he served two combat tours in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Hearts, for service members wounded under enemy fire, and a Bronze Star, given for heroic or meritorious service in a combat zone. He retired as a lieutenant colonel. With that experience alone, he had more than enough material to fill a Veterans Day chapel.
Yet, he chose not to focus on his own service; instead, he spoke about the sacrifice made by military families, whose service, he said, is greatly underappreciated by society. “There are thousands of quotes online about veterans,” Mr. Horstman said. “Tens of thousands! But no quotes about veterans’ families.”
While there are 1.4 million people serving in the U.S. armed forces, that number is .4 percent—less than a half of a percent—of the total American population. That means very few people understand firsthand what life is like for military families. For example, he noted, a child in a military family would typically change schools 6-9 times from kindergarten to high school graduation, and those schools might be spread around the globe—entailing not only a separation from friends, but also immersion in a new culture.
Mr. Horstman grew up in a military family, so he learned to cope with his father’s frequent deployments. While Mr. Horstman played soccer throughout his years in the Upper School at Norfolk Academy, his father attended only a single game.
Mr. Horstman deployed to Vietnam for the first time as a bachelor; when he deployed again in 1967, the situation on the homefront had changed dramatically. He was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. with his young wife, Kathy, who was five months pregnant. “The strain of separation was huge,” he said, noting that conveniences like Skype and texting did not exist back in those days. Letters were the way that families stayed in touch, with occasional direct voice contact via Military Auxiliary Radio Service, known as MARS radio.
When he returned from his second tour, after being wounded, he immediately saw some of the impacts of his absence. His toddler son would hide under the table whenever helicopters flew overhead at Fort Bragg, or when he heard shots at a nearby firing range.
“When you honor veterans, do not forget to recognize the contributions of veterans’ families,” he said, and he offered a quote from the great English poet, John Milton, to emphasize his point: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”