Archive for November 11, 2009

Veterans Day, a perspective

Posted: November 11, 2009 by datechguy in opinion/news, war
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This year I went to the annual meeting of the Alumni association of my High school. I drove my mother there who went to the same school 40 years before me. Her class was the class of 1942. Just about every boy in that class served in the military and quite a few never made it back.

Because of the lateness of my birth I was surrounded by people who served. My Father Served in the Pacific for 4 years, My Mother’s brother served in Patton’s Army and won the silver Star under fire My Father’s oldest brother didn’t make it home till 47′ due to injury. My uncles and their friends served and when I went places with my father everyone he hung around with served.

Next to the entrance of my church is the Italian American Veterans monument dedicated to the men of the parish who didn’t make it back.

If you walk through Fitchburg you will find about a dozen scattered stones on various sidewalks. Each one has a small 4″ x 2″ plaque on top with the name of a WWI vet who didn’t come back. I’ve always presumed they were in front of or near the neighborhoods where they lived.

Like other towns the primary park in town has a huge monument to those who served in the Union Army. I would go up to that monument and read the name and wonder about those guys who would stand there in a line shoulder to shoulder while people were shooting at them.

There are other monuments. A smaller one commemorates those who served in the Spanish American War and in the Phillipino insurrection 100 years ago. Monuments have gone up for WWII vets and Vietnam vets.

But back to my mother, at a recent Knight of Columbus meeting I sat next to a classmate of her’s and he told me of his time in the Army from 42-45. Because of his fluent Italian his primary duty was that of a translator. I listened to every word…

…I can’t get those words from my class. I graduated in 1981 in a class of about 382, I’m not aware of any person in my class who served (if anyone has I’d love to know Update: There was one: Valerie Jackson) although plenty of my teachers did.

I mentioned the new monuments, other than they day those new monuments were put up and during the small veterans day & memorial day ceremonies I’ve never seen a person looking at any of them. At the veterans day ceremonies other than soldiers and boy scouts there are no young people there.

Fort Devens is a few towns away but is half the size it was and until recently was largely forgotten around here. The Military was once a big presence around here, now the footprint is very small.

But there are glimmers. Two men from our town died serving in the war on terror. If I walk down to Romano’s Market on Saturday’s Josh is usually working in his father’s shop. I’ve watched him grow up. He used to go to my comic book store at the head of his little brothers and sisters back in the 80’s. He is a teacher two towns over. He is also a Captain in the reserves who served both at Gitmo and a year in Iraq. He is likely the only exposure that the students he teaches history in public school have to a veteran who served or an active duty reservist. They sit on his every word.

Today all over the country, particularly around here you can find people who don’t know a vet, who never met someone who served except for maybe a very old man.

I never served, I was the fat boy who went to college I knew what I wanted to do with myself and I did it, but unlike the rest of my generation I had the reminders around me and the fact that I’ve never served has always weighed heavily on me.

Three years ago my youngest had a new friend in 8th grade who came to his birthday party. His father was a soldier who was briefly stationed in my area. We became friends and after his transfer out of the area in July we have kept in touch.

My association with him had two effects, the lesser of the pair was that I who rarely take more than a half dozen drinks in a year drank more in those two years than I had the rest of my life, he was a connoisseur of beers and had all different types.

The primary effect was I attended many veterans events and met more people who served in those two years than I had in decades. I found that the military is still alive and well and is a family that takes care of its own. At his farewell dinner I had the honor of sitting with a colonel, a decorated WWII vet and a Vietnam vet who got 3 purple hearts in under six months, (no it wasn’t John Kerry, when I brought up that similarity I got a look from his wife that is still cutting through me when I think about it.) It reminded me of my youth when I was surrounded by heroes and didn’t realize it.

Dr. Samuel Johnson once had this exchange:

“Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.” Boswell: “Lord Mansfield does not.” Johnson: “Sir, if Lord Mansfield were in a company of General Officers and Admirals who have been in service, he would shrink; he’d wish to creep under the table.”

I didn’t shrink but I felt the way a man feels when his work is being done by someone else, and that is I believe more than any other reason why Veterans Day and Memorial day have basically become retail holidays.

When we see a serving soldier we are reminded that there are a small group of men and women who are doing our work for us. They are part of a community that if you are not a part of it you may not understand.

This has been the price of the all volunteer army that was born in the desperate attempts of college students to avoid service in the 60’s. For decades our popular culture looked down upon these men, our movies have and still paint them as “broken”. Even after Sept 11th our popular culture still never caught up with the average man who recognized that maybe just maybe there is something more to the soldier than someone who is looking to pay for college.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that a man in sin will avoid signs of God because it reminds him of his current state. I think a similar thing has happened to Veterans Day and Memorial Day. We don’t want to think about it, we don’t bother to attend. It is safer to simply shop, because if we look at Veterans Day and Memorial Day for who they honor and what they do we look at ourselves and remember what we have not done.

Today there will be a Mass honoring Vets at my church. I suspect it will be sparsely attended. Later today there will be a ceremony honoring veterans at the local senior center. The fact that it is at the SENIOR CENTER says it all.

A country that is unwilling to remember those who protect it will rapidly become less worth protecting.

Which brings us in a round about way to the eleven-eleven campaign that launches today.1111_logo_blue_url_small.jpg

The eleven-eleven project hopes to change this, to remind people that Veterans Day and Memorial Day are sacred days to honor those who have made the relatively easy lives we live possible. From the site:

The objective of the Eleven Eleven Campaign is simple: to get 11 million Americans to donate $11 to support America’s Veterans.

To reach that objective, we’ve made it easy to give back to our Veterans. Americans can text the word “VETS” to 85944 to donate $10 to America’s Veterans – your $10 donation will be matched with $1 from Beyond Tribute. Or you can give online here.

The money will go to support veterans but if you are in a situation where money is tight there are little things you can do. Today is Veterans day. There is likely some sort of ceremony in your town. GO THERE. See the people there, give that couple of hours. Find out about your neighbors who served.

If you have kids take go with them to a monument and read the names, if they have a school project have them pick a name from a local monument and do a report on him. Where did he serve? How did he die? Why did your town decide what he did was important enough to put his name on the public square forever and why don’t people think so anymore?

I asked my friend who is still serving what can a person like me who never served do for someone like him who has twenty years of time and wounds in his leg from his service? He said just to be there and remember.

And as Col George Connell once said, even if we don’t honor them or remember them they will still serve and protect us.

It’s a small price, are we willing to pay it?

And if we are not what does that say about us?

Update: Forgot to include this video about the campaign:

This will stay on top, I’ll be out today.

Update 2: My wife reminds me that there is one from our class who served. Let me give a shout out to Valerie Jackson, the one who served.