Search This Blog

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day - Where from and why?

 Hat tip to Stacy for sending me this below and, because she did, I realized I needed to do a REAL Veteran's Day post:

Today In World History:  Remembrance Day (also known as Poppy Day, Armistice Day or Veterans Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries to remember the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. This day, or alternative dates, are also recognized as special days for war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries .Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November to recall the official end of World War I on that date in 1918, as the major hostilities of World War I were formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice. (Note that "at the 11th hour", refers to the passing of the 11th hour, or 11:00 am.)The day was specifically dedicated by King George V, on 7 November 1919, to the observance of members of the armed forces who were killed during World War I. This was possibly done upon the suggestion of Edward George Honey to Wellesley Tudor Pole, who established two ceremonial periods of remembrance based on events in 1917.[1] 

The red poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem In Flanders Fields. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilt in the war.


November 11, 2010
Veterans Day, 2010
Mac McGuire

Looking back brings to me a lot of powerful, moving thoughts about this day:
The facts are simple enough.  November 11 is Veterans Day.  The day when those of us who have served in America's military think back to what it meant to us.  We are grateful for the opportunity.

There have been 11 wars beginning with the American Revolution.  In these conflicts from our founding to today's news reports, a total of 42 million Americans have wartime service in our military..

Of this total, 650,000 died in battle.

Another 309,000 died from other causes in the theatres where they served..

Today we have almost 17.5 million living American veterans of wartime service, about 5.5% of our total population. 

So if you know someone who has served in any branch of the service, wartime or peacetime, or both, this is the day to shake his or her hand and to say "Thank you for what you did for us.   We are grateful for your devotion to duty and to our country."

***

The wars have come and gone. 

Whether we were drafted or we enlisted, we went to our duty and served the country we loved. 

Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard

Those who served in these forces came from all over the country.

We got our training from stern men who never smiled.

We pushed ourselves harder than we ever had previously.

And when the "PT" or Physical Training was over, we knew things were just beginning.  Training is only a first step.  What lies ahead?  It may be distant countries with strange names.  Combat, danger, and sometimes long periods of empty days and nights. 

Drill and duty.  Duty and Drill.  And days that drag on again and again.  Does anything brighten or lighten this heavy mood?

Yes. 

A letter from home.  From, Mom, from Dad, from the girl you dated, from a sister or brother.  They care.  They love you.

They worry about you. 

And we think about the realities of combat.  Will we ever face it?  How will we handle it? 

It will be adrenalin pumping.  Our hearts racing.  Enemy fire incoming.  Take cover!   There may be fear but it's under control.  No sense of alarm.  Just the business of war.

It will probably be like training again.  Only it's never more serious than this.  And the price of failure is the most it can be to any military man. 

And that's OK.

***

The Korean War was never supposed to happen.  World War II was over.  We had won.  We had the new organization  -- the United Nations.  No reason for anyone to go to war again.  Every problem would be solved with negotiations.

But, somehow it happened.  Korea was the place.  They had unusual names for this war.  It was a "Proxy War."  America was fighting against the Communist Chinese and the Soviets who supported them.   We all were "proxies" for the two countries actually involved, North and South Korea.

That didn't make it much better.  People were still getting killed.  Families were grieving over the loss of wonderful young men who hadn't had the chance to live their lives.

I was 20 when I was drafted.  I had been studying at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio, working to become an engineer.  Then my father became very ill.  I had to quit school and go to work full time.  My mother and I were the only sources of family income.

Happily I met on a blind date a wonderful woman.  She was from Detroit.  We were two totally unmatched people.  It was a case of the Geek and the Beauty Queen.  No question which one I was.

A few months later we married.  And on the day of our wedding, the Selective Service made out my draft notice.  Just 24 days later I was off to Basic Training in Fort Knox.  By then the Korean War was winding down.  The truce had been signed.  But all the plans we had made for our married years, the next phase of our lives, were out the window. The next two years were spoken for.

But....  It was for our country.   Time for Drill and Duty.  Happily the Beauty Queen joined me when I got a permanent duty station.   There still were concerns.  Her brother had been killed in Korea.  There's always the possibility of another family member meeting the same fate.  A machine gunner, he gave his life holding off attacking Chinese so his units could escape.  We both wept when we were home again and we read his citation for his Medal of Honor. The words had gained new meaning.

***

And then came Viet Nam.  A strange war in many ways.  Intense, but shifting political pressures and anti-war sentiment so strong, it led to many Americans bitterly condemning those who wore the uniform, as though they had made the choices and strategic plans. 

Strange that in all of this, I experienced one of the most moving examples of deep devotion to those who wear the uniform.  Fifty years later it still lives in my memory.

I was on a bus riding home from work.  Nearly at my stop, I looked out the window at what was an amazing sight.  The street we were passing had a large number of American flags flying in the breeze on the afternoon of a bright sunny day.  And it was the only street where I'd seen this.

I wondered what it was all about.  I knew of no special day or occasion that would explain it.

When I got to my stop, I turned and walked back to the flag-bedecked street.  This was a middle-class residential area of Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.  Neat houses, even if not particularly large.  Nicely manicured lawns.

Walking down the street, the flags were flying as far as I could see.  I was really curious now.  After a few more minutes of walking, I saw a man sitting on his porch. 

I asked him what the occasion was.

He said, "Oh, this is for Buddy.  Do you live around here?"

"Yes, I live on the next street over.  I stopped because I saw all the flags.  All the way out here, it's the only street where I've seen them."

The man smiled.  "Well, Buddy was a wonderful young man.  Always helping out others.  A good athlete in high school.  He joined the Army last year.  And then, he was killed.  Someplace I never heard of.  They brought his body back for burial.  It's tomorrow.  So all of us got the idea that we'd fly the American flag today and tomorrow in his honor.  Got everybody on the street to join in.   Really looks wonderful, doesn't it?"

It was a powerful moment.  Despite all the prevailing criticism, attacks, hostility and anger engendered by this war, this is what these neighbors of Buddy thought to do to honor him.  When I went home, I told my wife what had happened.  I wrote the story along with the details of Buddy's life that the neighbor had told me. 

The local paper published it, and a Cleveland Daily picked it up.  I later sent it to the Reader's Digest, and it was published there.

I received many letters and notes about that day.  Somehow, the impact is still always there.  A reminder of what citizens of our country can feel about those who wear the uniform.

Happy Veteran's Day!

~

I had to remember the Veterans today...not the science and worldview stuff, not yet...Everybody else who ate K rations or C rations or MREs, who fast-crawled under machine-gun fire, who strapped on gear and double-timed to some dusty hot building in the middle of nowhere to study yet again the art of tearing down and cleaning and reassembling your weapon.   Never call it a gun!   

I did not volunteer to join the military.   I had my own plan and my own dreams and goals.   I was no hero.

I hated the day I learned I would be drafted.  I despised the Army Green bus that sat in the parking lot of my University waiting for us to finish our finals and climb aboard for the ride to Indianapolis to be processed in.   I resented Richard Nixon's one-year law - ripping me away from college, where I had scholarship money and a job and a girlfriend and a 1964 and a half original Mustang convertible with a white top and painted Poppy Red.   Ironic.   Poppy Red.  Poppies the symbol of veteran's sacrifices.  I have learned to be tremendously thankful that I served my country rather than run to Canada like so many of my peers. 


After I was drafted in I enlisted, got a top secret clearance, wound up living in officer's barracks going to journalism school in Indianapolis some time after my initial MOS and spending some time waiting for my school cycle to be ready for me.   Near the end of my time at Fort Benjamin Harrison the FromCanada Fugitives began to be housed on the East end of the post, in the old raggedy WWII barracks like the kind many of us had to live in during basic.  Before Gerald Ford had officially welcomed draft dodgers back home, they were being housed in Indianapolis quietly off to the side while the government pondered what to do with them.  They were eventually pardoned.   We found it hard to think about them, many of us angry and resentful that we crossed the line and took the oath while they crossed the border and hid like cowards.

I know better now.   Pardon was correct.  Forgiveness was correct.   Every draft dodger has to live with himself and live with his cowardice and his dereliction of duty.  That is more punishment than anything Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter might have exacted.   Every boy who ran for the border back then is a man who has to try to ignore all the flags and hoopla on Veteran's Day and Pearl Harbor Day and Memorial Day and so on and so forth.  It is more than enough.   I hope those of you who ran have become men in part because of the anguish of that wrong turn, I hope you have learned to take responsibility and be good citizens.  This is not about you.  You can be forgiven.  But you will never be honored.

This is for every drop of sweat and blood that was shed for you, if you live in a free society, it was shed for you.  We all threw grenades and shot our rifles and did formations and PT and it was all to establish discipline and camaraderie so that you were willing to trust and protect your buddy when the chips were down.   Some of us went to war, some of us went to support them, some of us did it from stateside, some of us did it in places and ways that are not to be revealed.  Some of us served when no one was openly shooting at us.  We stepped up when others shrunk back.  We sacrificed years and sometimes limbs and often lives so Americans could breath free air, vote, complain, blog, run for office, work, love, marry, have children, even become atheistic naturalistic materialistic atheopaths!

My daughter posted this on facebook:  "A Veteran is someone, who at one point in their life, wrote a blank check payable to the United States of America for an amount up to, and including, their life. That is beyond honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer remember that fact. Put as your status if you are a Veteran, know a Veteran, Love a Veteran, Lost a Veteran or support the Troops!!!!"

6 comments:

radar said...

My Dad and my "second dad" are both in the presence of God now, both men of faith, both men of valor under fire who, in peacetime, were men of good cheer and peace.

My dad told me he would move the whole family to Canada if I chose to evade the draft. Did he mean it? Did he know how much it meant that he understood, a man who fought in Korea and was battle-tested, offering to help me run away?

I now think he simply wanted me to understand that my choice impacted the entire family. I was too young to see how wise he was. I was unwilling to give up my dreams of college degree and youthful success. But I was forced to look deep within and see what was most important to me...was it me, or was it my family and my country and my conscience? Even a man who does not know God well, well knows what God wants him to do. I didn't know God then. But I knew my Dad. Thanks, Dad!

Anonymous said...

"It was a "Proxy War." America was fighting against the Communist Chinese and the Soviets who supported them. We all were "proxies" for the two countries actually involved, North and South Korea."

Actually it's just the other way around. North and South Korea were proxies for the Communists and the US.

radar said...

My Dad was an American and he was fighting Chinese and North Koreans. China and the USA were fighting AND the two Korean sides were fighting but the North Koreans were actually Koreans who had been invaded and most of them resisted the Chinese invasion at first. Most Koreans fighting on the side of the North were forced and not volunteers. Now the North Korean people are serfs bound in poverty and illness by tyranny.

Jon Woolf said...

North and South Korea were proxies for the Communists and the US.

Well, maybe ... except that the "US" army that defended South Korea in the Korean War was actually a United Nations army. Perhaps the only example in history of the United Nations doing what it was formed to do: act to defend a victim state against an aggressor state. At least eighteen nations contributed soldiers to the UN army in South Korea.

radar said...

I have to find myself agreeing with Jon Woolf! How about that? The US comprised the bulk of the forces and the UN backed down rather than finish the job but you are right.

Anonymous said...

We sacrificed years and sometimes limbs and often lives so Americans could breath free air, vote, complain, blog, run for office, work, love, marry, have children, even become atheistic naturalistic materialistic atheopaths!

Let's not forget the atheists who fought and died so you can be a fundamentalist Christian YEC, shall we? ;-)

Also: in 2004, did you vote for George W. Bush or for John Kerry?