Veterans Day will pass quietly, almost unnoticed for some on Tuesday, Nov. 11. But a heart tug or memory will mark the day for others. I lost the veteran closest to me during the past year so the observance has been looming on my calendar.
My father served in World War II. His artillery battery fought across Europe and lingered in occupation after VE Day. They celebrated when news about the bomb meant they would not have to invade Japan. He came home and made a life that also begat me.
But it wasn’t easy.
He died in June and already I’ve come across questions I’d like to ask again and hear the answers directly. Now, I rely on memory of the stories.
From an early age, I knew hearing the words “the war” meant something somber and powerful. At every step of my life, his first-hand observances and stories grew in meaning. I may not always get to the ceremony, but Veterans Day never passes without me noticing.
It has been my privilege during many years as a newspaper man to go to various Veterans Day events on assignment. The pomp and ceremony certainly adds dignity, but what I’ve noticed mostly is emotion on faces.
When veterans are introduced, feelings from deep within come forth as they humbly stand to be recognized.
I wonder when I see them what stories they can tell. That’s why audiences at a Veterans Day observance are respectful. Many who attend did not serve in the military, but they are thinking about stories told by a spouse, a son or daughter, a father, a mother, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, a grandfather, an uncle, an aunt, a neighbor, a friend.
My father had many stories from World War II. A few were funny. Some were about boredom. Combat stories were horrific. He was often on front lines and in jump offs as an artillery spotter.
I miss the stories and the answers to questions. It wasn’t always easy to hear the words, and it was often hard to see the pained emotion in his face, even after decades, when he talked of the worst he witnessed.
Veterans don’t want their stories forgotten. Veterans Day was created as Armistice Day after World War I, which ended on Nov. 11, 1918.
Observances held this year have marked a century since that war began in 1914. We have the National World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. to help us remember. It’s an outstanding museum. Go if you haven’t visited.
But it seems wistful upon a visit that no soldiers remain who fought in the war.
Now, those who served in the military during World War II are fast fading from our ranks. The same is true for the Korean War, the forgotten war.
Now even the Vietnam War that once seemed so fresh to my generation is receding into dim past.
But every generation seems to have a war or a conflict involving combat in far-away places. Every high school graduation class in recent decades has put Americans on guard against the turbulent violence and hatred loose in some parts of the world.
On Monday, I listened to a news report about a new World Trade Center building being dedicated and opened in New York, the nation’s tallest building. It is a reminder of ongoing conflict in a war against terrorism with no front lines or clear combatants.
The types of stories veterans live out seem to change in an evolving world.
But they always involve sacrifice. Often it’s a sacrifice of youth or innocence or both. Some families attend Veterans Day ceremonies because their sacrifice was a family member killed in service.
Tuesday will pass by peacefully in Platte County, a week after an election involving differing opinions, because veterans protected our freedoms. Remember their stories, it’s all they ask.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.