Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day, 2009

First, a brief history of Veterans Day, brought to us by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs:

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles in France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a resolution in 1926, with these words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

Has anyone else noticed that our Government is not nearly as poetic today as they were in 1926?

Anyway, in 1938, Congress made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I.

Unfortunately, WWI was not the “war to end all wars,” and after WWII and the Korean War, in 1954, Congress changed the name of the holiday to “Veterans Day,” and November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

There you have it.

I am proud to say I have quite a few veterans in my family tree, and I reflect on their service and sacrifice for this country every year on this day. Of all the old war stories, one in particular always makes me smile.

Brad Dolliver, my mom’s Uncle Brad, was a WWII and Korean War veteran. He was the Captain of a B-24 bomber in WWII named the “What’s Cookin’ Doc?,” complete with Bugs Bunny painted on the nose. He led his outstanding men on 30 missions over Europe, only sustaining one single crew injury, when flak shrapnel hit one of his gunners on their final mission over Germany. That was an amazing feat, since their campaign tour included being shot down on Christmas Day, 1944. That is the story that I love.

They were hit hard by anti-aircraft fire that knocked out three of his four engines, and he knew they couldn’t make it back to their airfield in England. He was losing altitude and heading for the American lines in France when he told the crew to bail out as he tried to land in an open field he had spotted. They unanimously chose to stay with him, and as he recalled, he made the smoothest landing of his entire career that day. He and his crew hitched a ride with a French man in a pick-up truck, and Uncle Brad assumed they were being taken to the American lines. Fortunately, the navigator was paying attention, and informed Captain Dolliver that they were being driven in the wrong direction, toward the Germans. The way Uncle Brad told the next part of the story speaks volumes about his generation and their matter-of-fact style. As he put it, “Somehow my .45 ended up in that Frenchman’s ear, and we got that truck turned around the right way.”

Got to love it.

Uncle Brad and his crew were some of the lucky ones that returned home from the wars they fought. On this special day set aside to remember and thank our veterans, let us not forget those who gave their lives for our liberty, and the liberty of other nations.

As a husband and a father, I can imagine no sacrifice more grave or selfless than the one the soldier makes when he leaves his family behind to fight on foreign soil on our behalf. The physical, mental and emotional toll must be staggering, but we are reminded of the caliber of men that stand at our defense when we hear them say, as Brad Dolliver said, “We were just doing our jobs.”

The humility and grace of our nation’s finest always strikes me and inspires me, and I am always at a loss for words of gratitude when I get a chance to thank them. It’s always just a simple “thank you,” because anything else I would or could try to express would fall well short of the reverence deserved.

For all the thanks and praise our returning heroes rightly receive, sadly it is the men and women that we will never get a chance to thank who deserve our utmost appreciation. They gave their lives for us, and that is a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

So, from this freedom-loving American to all you VFW’s out there, all I can say is, “Thanks for your service,” because I will never be able to adequately convey what you truly mean to me.

God bless you all.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2009 Marc Schmatjen

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