Saturday, November 11, 2006
Today is Veteran's Day, also the 38th anniversary of the day I became a veteran. I was discharged on Veteran's Day, November 11, 1968. I've never considered myself what people think of when they think of veterans. I was drafted during the Vietnam era, but I was stationed for my two year hitch in Nuremburg, Germany. Not exactly a combat zone.
I consider the real veterans to be the guys who have been in combat, and specifically those who fought World War II. My dad was in the Army Air Corps, stationed in the Philippines. My father-in-law, Ray, was a Combat Engineer who went through the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944-early 1945, then was one of the first into Germany when the Americans finally crossed the Rhine.
My father died early at age 47. Ray died in December, 2002 at age 87. According to statistics, on the day Ray died a thousand or more other veterans also died. I hope they had a great party when they got to their new duty station!
My dad used to like to talk about his time in the Army, but Ray didn't have many stories. His children and I suspect he had a lot more that he had seen and done that never came out. But that was his generation, also. Some of them didn't talk about things like that. They came home from the war, they settled down, finished their educations, got jobs, fathered us baby boomers, who are now burying them.
I'm respectful of those servicemen and women who have lost their lives in other conflicts since that war, but I always thought the World War II vets were the guys who set the bar, who were the benchmark of how people should behave under extreme stress. Of course I was simplifying it in my mind. Lots of people didn't make it through World War II, either physically or mentally.
I'm sure a lot of people came home from the war changed forever, not for the better. But Ray came home, picked up his life with his wife and daughter, shown in the picture he carried with him all through his Army service. He and his wife had four more children, including my wife. Ray worked for the Post Office for 16 years, then quit and worked more skilled jobs until he retired. At his gravesite some servicemen did what they did for my dad. They blew taps; they gave my mother-in-law a flag and said the words that never fail to move me, "…with the thanks of a grateful nation." I wish they would never have to say those words to another veteran's widow, mother or family member again.
During and after the world wars, in every conflict we as a nation get involved in, men are sent to their deaths and it is usually said of them, "They died so we could be free. They died for freedom and democracy." There was that, but what Ray, what millions of other men and women in his circumstances were fighting for was a lot more simple. Ray wanted to go home. He wanted the war to be over, not only because he wanted to help us prevail over our enemies, but because he wanted to go on with his life. He wanted to be there when his children were born, he wanted to watch them grow up.
He was able to do all that. He was a veteran of the most awful war in the history of humankind, and he came out of it and went home. He lived long enough for us to appreciate what a tremendous job he did, but he never told us what it might have really cost him.
On this Veterans Day, for Ray and all of those like him, peace be with you.