Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day is not for the dead. That would be Memorial Day, which was covered earlier in this blog.

In Smock, Veteran's Day was not "celebrated" but do not think for one second that it was not remembered. When I was a kid, it was called Armistice Day, which commemorated the signing of the treaty to end World War I on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Modern posters say that Veteran's Day honors "all who served". And rightly so. Many of us include the dead in this but I prefer to think of those that are still above ground.

And so, in my childhood memories of Veteran's Day, I remember the old, arthritic men who would hang the flag out on their porches or wear their World War I campaign hats. I actually remember my grandfather's "tin hat" that he kept from that war which is exactly like the one in the picture here. World War I was called the war to end all wars. As my grandfather would say, they came up short when they gave out that title.

One of the things that Veteran's Day taught me as a child was the respect that people had for anyone who fought for their country, right back from the Revolutionary War to today's fighting in Iraq. These people were admired and praised for what they did. God and Country meant something.

In today's society, God has become the cellular phone and Country is something that is to be mocked and ridiculed at any opportunity. How can we honor our veterans if we do not honor the country for which they fought? The answer to this is that most of us simply do not honor our Veterans today.

Sure, we pay them what the Bible calls "lip service" by waving flags and patting uniformed men and women on the back while saying "well done" but do we really mean it? Is there real sincerity there? When a veteran walked by in the Smock of the 1950's, often a hushed remark accompanied them like "he was in the Great War" or "you be sure to call him MR. PONZURICK" because of what he did.

In today's "it's all about me" society, it becomes just as difficult to relate to fighting in the Baghdad streets as it was to relate to the fighting in the jungles of Phu Cat, Vietnam. You can almost hear the comments of "well at least they're not fighting down the street".

If you exclude the "family feud" that we fought in the mid-1800's, the last war fought on our own soil was mentioned only in the history books. We never knew anyone from those wars.

So then wars that were fought in remote places with exotic names like Verdun and Cassarine Pass and El Alamein were easy to forget. And along with them, we forget the men who hang those flags on their porches.

We feel pretty good about our returning soldiers from Iraq. There are even groups of people who meet returning troops at airports whether they know these military men and women or not.

Several years ago, I had written a surgical technology course for a Northern Virginia college. Part of the requirement of establishing this program was to get written affiliations with hospitals so that our students could rotate through their operating rooms for the very necessary practical experience that was required to graduate. So I got the idea to go to Walter Reed Army Hospital and Bethesda Naval Hospital and see if they would enter into this agreement with the college. What I saw there wasn't horrible. It was much worse. There were literally squads and platoons of amputees lining the halls and rooms of these hospitals. And in that instant, I learned that these are the returning troops from battle that didn't come through the airport halls, but rather were transported by military aircraft directly to these hospital for rehabilitation and fitting for prosthetic limbs. And there are thousands of these real war heroes there today.

So this Veteran's Day, I will remember those old men who dared not tell us youngsters of the horrors of the gas clouds or the trenches or the prison camp in Hanoi. But I will also remember these young people, and dare I say children, who will bear both the mental and physical memories of defending freedom and justice. They are the ones who deserve our admiration and respect on this Veteran's Day.