This Veterans Day we mark the the 100th anniversary of the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of 1918 – the time when an armistice was signed with Germany to end World War I. Though it is always necessary to recognize this date, the century mark reminds us of the abiding significance of the historical day that ended the war after four brutal years of conflict.
Originally known as Armistice Day until it was changed to Veterans Day in 1954, this is a day reserved to honor all those who have served this country in the Armed Forces. Hopefully, you will have an opportunity to go to a parade or thank a veteran if possible.
In my family we always went to the parades because my grandfather and father were veterans of World War I and World War II. Also, both were very active in the local VFW (Veteran of Foreign Wars) post. It is there that I met so many people who served in the major conflicts of the 20th century. I heard their stories and learned to respect what they endured in order for our country to remain free.
My grandfather Fred served on a submarine chaser during World War I. These small, speedy ships were meant to counteract the scourge of the German U boats. These German submarines were devastating to Allied shipping, and thus the submarine chaser played a vital role in limiting the damage they could do.
Pop was never one to brag about his service, but he did explain that life aboard the ship was difficult. Besides being engaged in the dangerous endeavor to sink German subs and remove mines from strategic waterways, living on the small ship involved close quarters for the enlisted men. Added to that was the uncomfortable nature of the bumpy ride, with the men feeling constantly bounced around its small confines.
Luckily, Pop made it home from the war and went on to serve in the New York City Fire Department. He met and married my grandmother and they had three daughters, my mother being the youngest.
Many years later when I was a boy, he taught me his old sailor’s creed: “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” He talked about his time in the Navy wistfully, but there was a subtle pride as he spoke that made me know how much this time of his life meant to him.
When my mother brought my father home for the first time, Pop delighted in knowing that my father was not only a New York City cop but was also a veteran of World War II. Though Dad served in the Army, they loved sharing stories of their times in uniform, and as a kid listening to them, I couldn’t believe what they had been through and I became in awe of their heroism.
Anyone who has someone who has served in the Armed Forces in the family or knows someone who has served understands the profound debt we all owe them. When they come home, we should show our gratitude to them, and one way to do that is to attend parades on Veterans Day to show support.
All veterans come home with scars – seen or unseen – and it is also necessary for us to support organizations like the VFW, Wounded Warriors, and Paralyzed Veterans of America who are there to help them. Giving generously to these groups is a small sacrifice especially considering that the veterans’ sacrifices go far beyond words.
So, this year, as is the case every year, I am thinking of Pop and Dad and wishing they were here with me. Their stories linger in my mind, and I can hear the two of them as if they were still sitting there – drinking beers and reminiscing about their time in the service. They never bragged about themselves and what they did, but they spoke of their time during the war with a reverence it deserved.
Thanks for all you did, Pop and Dad, because of your efforts and that of so many of your fellow soldiers and sailors, I can sit here and write this today and my kids and so many other children in this country can go to school, play, and live their lives in freedom.
Last night there was a beautiful red sky at sunset, and I thought about what Pop had taught me so long ago, and I knew today would be a fine one for a parade!