Sean Keyman

Sean Keyman joined the Marine Corps right after he graduated Hammond High School in 2003. He spent eight months in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / November 10, 2011)

They joined the military for different reasons, served in different wars and grew up in different eras. But Bill Volenick and Sean Keyman have a lot in common.

Volenick is an 80-year-old Korean War veteran who enlisted in the Army to work in intelligence at the Pentagon but instead spent 16 months overseas. Keyman is a 26-year-old veteran who served eight months in Iraq after signing up for the Marines straight out of high school.

But for both men, their time spent serving their country helped shape them into who they are today. Both attribute their successful careers and their outlook on life to the military.

Volenick and Keyman are just two of the thousands of veterans with ties to Howard County who will be honored on Veterans Day, Friday, Nov. 11. (While the number of veterans in the county is unclear, nearly half a million live in Maryland, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.)

Submit a Letter to the Editor for the Laurel Leader, Columbia Flier and Howard County Times

On a day that stirs "a lot of memories," Volenick said he will try to be around other veterans. He plans to attend the annual breakfast and ceremony at Veterans Elementary School, which is located on Ellicott City land formerly owned by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, as well as the ceremony at the Ellicott City VFW post, of which he is a member.

Keyman's recognition, meanwhile, will be more silent: He said he has no special plans for celebrating the holiday.

An Ellicott City resident who grew up in Baltimore, Volenick enlisted in the Army at 21 just after graduating from Loyola College with a bachelor's degree in biology. He didn't want to wait until he was drafted.

"With enlisting, I could pick my branch and what assignment I was," Volenick said in a recent interview.

He asked to study Russian and get a job working in Army intelligence at the Pentagon.

"I figured Army intelligence would beat being a foot soldier in a foxhole somewhere," Volenick said.

Army recruiters, however, had different plans for Volenick. He was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and ordered to learn Chinese at the Army Language School in California.

Sent to Korea

In 1954, Volenick was deployed on a 16-month combat tour in Korea, leaving behind his wife and young daughter (the first of three).

"If you got there, you were lucky to be there 16 months," he said. "Otherwise you'll be home with a purple heart or a body bag."

Volenick was lucky. He served in a recon unit working on intelligence solutions with the Chinese. Being in Korea during the waning stages of the conflict, Volenick lost more friends to hemorrhagic fever — a deadly infection carried by a parasite that lives on rodents — than bullets.

Still, serving in Korea during the final years of the war was also a curse. Volenick said he and many of the other soldiers who left Korea in 1955, so close to bringing the conflict to an end, regret giving in to North Korea.

"Our feeling was, let's get it over with so our children, our grandchildren don't have to come back here and finish it," he said.

When Volenick and 200 other soldiers returned home, no one was at the dock to greet their ship, except family members and friends and one women passing out doughnuts.

"People were beginning to feel like they didn't want war and they didn't want us fighting over there for Korea," Volenick explained.

Still, Volenick returned home with a newfound appreciation for life and the blessings of living in the United States.