How long has it been since I last saw my father march on Veteran’s Day? I asked myself this question and figured almost 30 years – when he last served as commander of his Veterans of Foreign War Post. I recall standing there watching him march by proudly, along with many of his friends who had also served in World War II.
They were younger then, but much older than when they first marched off to war. The ferocity of pride in their expressions as well as an enduring sense of accomplishment was notable, and I always thought that we owed them all so much – more than America could ever possibly pay back.
Now all these years later Dad is gone and so are so many of his friends who served in that conflict. As a boy I had marched a number of times with the VFW contingent, and I had met many veterans, and there were those who had to ride in cars because they were too old to walk the route anymore.
Besides a majority of World War II vets, some of them had served in World War I (including my grandfather), and others had been in the Spanish-American War. I even met one ancient fellow who had been in the Civil War. He was 112 at the time and recalled meeting General U.S. Grant on the battlefield.
This day marks a rich history of tradition commemorating the Allied nations and Germany signing of the armistice to cease hostilities at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The following year it was celebrated as Armistice Day, became a federal holiday in 1938, and became known as Veteran’s Day after World War II.
Now with Dad gone the day always brings a tear to my eye, reminding me of those Veterans Days spent with him, my uncle, and grandfather as they marched in the parade and spoke of their experiences. As I look at today’s veterans, many of the old guard has served in Korea and Vietnam (those were the guys whom Dad called the “young bucks” 30 years ago).
The young bucks now are from Iraq and Afghanistan, and as the parades kick off here in New York City and all around the country today, the best message we can send is by showing our support and turning out to honor their service as they march on by.
No matter how you may feel about war and the sordid politics sometimes connected to it – and I never met one vet who liked it – there is a necessary and compelling need to recognize these men and women who served. Just as we appreciate the firefighter who will run into a burning building while everyone else is running out, we must salute these people for doing what most of the rest of us would not be able to do.
On this day too I recall one old grizzled vet who gave me a present – the gift of bullet wrapped in a Buddy Poppy. The Buddy Poppy is made by people staying in VA hospitals and homes and represents the blood shed by those Americans who served.
The inspiration for the iconic poppies comes from the famous poem “In Flanders Field” by Canadian Army Colonel John McCrae. The beautiful and memorable poem notes the cruel dichotomy of booming war guns while peaceful flowers grow around the graves of soldiers who already made the ultimate sacrifice.
The bullet-poppy combination extends the metaphor of the poem – the inevitability of wars notwithstanding, peace is always the ultimate goal. I keep this on a shelf in my office and look at it every day, thinking of my Dad and all the other men and women who served in time of conflict in order that we could live in peace and safety back home.
If possible try to get to a parade today. While it’s good to show your support of our service men and women, it will also benefit you if you get to meet one or more of these people, listen to their stories, and appreciate their efforts on behalf of all Americans.
If you do have this opportunity, don’t forget to extend your hand and say, “Thank you.” It’s the least any of us can do.
Photo credits: VFW, history.com
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