Our local newspaper carried a nice tribute to veterans one day last week. An adorable little boy, age 6, said that he is proud of his grandpa because he is a veteran.
“My grandpa was a fighter in the Civil War. He says it was a very bad war.”
After we quit chuckling about that, Caroline and I talked about what being a veteran really means. She is amazed to think that many young boys, not much older than she is right now, left their homes and their schooling behind to fight for their country.
“It had to have been so scary!”
Personal journal. My father-in-law, Don Sutherland, was a Navy man during World War II. Though he didn’t like to talk about it much, he came to me one day and asked if I would help him with something. He wanted me to take a look at a journal he had kept during the war, which was strictly forbidden for him to have done.
“I was wondering if you could maybe put this in a typed-up form that each of the boys could have to keep.”
It was an amazing day-to-day account of life aboard a ship, moving from one port to another, names of places most of those boys had never heard of, places that held such incredible mystery to each of them. I was glad to have been asked to complete this project for him.
I finished it in time for him to give a copy to each of his six sons on what turned out to be his last Christmas with us. He died unexpectedly two months later.
For the duration. He told me that he had battled homesickness and seasickness, and he said those have to be among two of the worst things to deal with. When waking up the next day and the day after that, he knew he would still be on that swaying ship, and he would be even more miles away from home.
“For the duration” had a very, very long ring to it.
Many young men, my father-in-law included, left not only family and friends, but family farms behind. Don was the only son, and he worried that his leaving was going to make the farm work darn near impossible for his father to keep up with.
“You left, knowing it was the right thing to do, but it didn’t make the leaving any easier,” he said.
Courage admired. Caroline wrote a tribute to veterans, and in it she said, “If I could tell a veteran anything, I would want to tell them how proud I am of them. I cannot imagine the amount of courage they had to have had to leave their homes to fight in a war, risking their lives for everyone. I cannot imagine people my age going to war, but some people were this young, or even younger.
“Not only did they risk their lives, but they also knew of all of the very painful memories they might have if they did survive, and in spite of it all, they still risked this.”
She added, “I admire your courage, bravery, and loyalty. Without any of you, the United States of America would not be what it is today. It is because of you that I feel very proud and I am very thankful. I would sincerely like to thank all of the veterans for making America what it is today.”
Perpetual ache. In the book, The Good Old Days, compiled by R. J. McGinnis, a glimpse of how differently each returning soldier must have felt shines through.
One young man said he had missed home so much it was like an ache that didn’t go away until he set foot back on the home farm. Another young man said that life at home now held him captive, “like chains on a dog meant to run free.”
Regardless, the experience changed each veteran, shaped him, and made our communities and our country more complete in so many ways.
It makes me think that Veteran’s Day should be observed more than just once a year.