Musings of the Chronologically Challenged™ Fourth Generation
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
VETERANS I HAVE KNOWN
In reflecting on Veteran’s Day, I’ve been remembering veterans who have touched my life. No, I didn’t know any soldiers from the Revolution, but I do remember two Civil War veterans!
One of my sixth grade friends, Todd, lived with his Civil War vet grandfather. On a day that everyone was to bring a historical item to class to talk about, Todd brought his grandfather’s Civil War sword. It was breathtaking! To see the sword up close and touch it made such an impression on me. I can recall my awe to this day. Everyone in the little town where I grew up had seen the old veteran walking around town in his large-brimmed hat, with the beautiful, ornate sword swinging from his belt, but I actually touched it! And what an aristocratic gentleman! Wisps of snow white hair showing under the brim of his hat; erect, military-bearing; not on a stroll, but as if on a mission, in a brisk military gait; and the sword. Although not in uniform, the elegant old man, in his nineties by then, exuded military discipline and pride. In my adulthood, I could have kicked myself many a time for not getting to know my friend’s grandfather and having conversations with him.
My husband’s grandfather was also a Civil War veteran. He, too, was in his nineties by the time I knew him, but was frail and sick. I only saw him once, sitting in his rocking chair on the porch. . He didn’t communicate much by the time I met him. Perhaps he was still tortured by his memories of a Yankee POW camp in the cold north. (but that’s another blog)
No veteran from the Spanish-American War ever crossed my path. My grandfather could have served in that conflict that began in 1898, but he opted for another conflict and got married instead!!
The World War One veteran I knew was my father-in-law, Mark Twain. (No, not THAT one!) He served in the trenches of Europe and was one of the lucky ones who returned home unscathed. Mark told vivid stories of his war experiences until the day he died. He couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast, but he could relate with detailed fervor the ecstatic reaction of the soldiers when the bells tolled all over Europe signaling the Armistice.
World War II vets I knew were family members and family friends. Some came back. Some didn’t. Two uncles served in WWII. Uncle Wade was an Air Force bombardier who flew 20-some missions over Germany, came home on leave, and was killed in a car crash. Uncle Charlie, Army, chased French women around for a few months and came home with gifts from Paris. Other WWII military personnel that came into my young life: many Army; two Marines; one Navy Seabee; two Air Force paratroopers; one Merchant Marine.
No one I knew personally served in the Korean “police action”; however, an older lady, who I met after Korea, lost her son and only child there. He was a graduate of West Point whose body was never found and returned home. She took me to her local cemetery in 1963 and showed me his memorial stone. It disturbed her greatly that he had no grave – only a stone. Many mothers face this terrible tragedy after every war.
From Vietnam to the present, everyone knows someone who served. Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom, plus others that I do not quickly recall. If you talk to a veteran today – or any day, for that matter – take a moment to thank him or her for your freedom and blessings and for their contributions and sacrifices to world peace and security.
UPDATE: From Uncle, from Rebel Yell, here's the best opening line of the day on the blogs I've read: "If you can read this, thank a teacher. But since you are reading it in English, you'd better thank a Vet."