Last Monday was Veterans Day. I posted colors (Old Glory) at daybreak. I stood as straight as my time-warped, 90-year-old body could and touched my right eyebrow with a knarled right hand that looked like a frightened spider. I must have been a laughable sight as I stood my ground, thinking of my good fortune to live in this country and my responsibility to it.
I dropped my hand sharply as I was taught in boot camp many years ago. I thought about kneeling and bowing my head in tribute to others who love our nation, but I wasn’t sure I could get up. I decided hollering for help or crawling across the lawn to a tree or fence to aid my getting up was not a way to honor our country. My wallowing around after a Kapernick type salute wouldn’t bring good folks with different views together.
I am a veteran. I don’t like the idea of having a holiday to celebrate those of us who served in armed forces. Protecting our country was honor enough. Armistice Day, the original Nov. 11 holiday, was a reminder that people died so we might have peace. My earliest memory that some people killed others was on an Armistice Day about 86 years ago. I’m not certain whether it was in 1932 or 1933.
Daddy, Mother and I were invited to dinner (noontime in Texas) at my Great Uncle Albert’s house. Several of those present were WWI veterans. Uncle Albert was hit by a German shell in a trench in France. He lost his right arm completely and most of his left hand. He could do most anything with a pirate hook where his left hand used to be. While the men were eating at the first table and the women serving them, I toddled off and found a magnifying gismo and a box of WWI battle scene pictures.
I entertained myself by looking at pictures of human bodies with heads blown off, stacks of limbs without bodies and other horrors of war. Great Aunt Alice found me and screamed that little Thadis should not be looking at the war pictures. Mother said that was OK because I was a baby and wouldn’t remember them. But I do. From that time on I knew dead human bodies bloated and became food for buzzards.
Our country was in WWII when I attended high school. I was charged with raising and lowering our nation’s flag each day. I gathered scrap iron, acted in patriotic plays, picked wool from dead sheep and looked forward to graduating, flying a Lockheed Lightning fighter plane and shooting Japs. When America’s first atomic bomb dropped, the war to end all wars was over. I became a naïve hill country boy trying to find my place in a post war world.
About the time I learned the stone mason trade, the Korean Conflict started. I was drafted. For the first time someone other than Mother or Dad cut my hair. The next two years of active duty taught me the world was bigger than Texas, success was determined by careful planning, and being prepared for change was a key to survival.
That awful Korean War no one wanted to call a war made me part of the veteran’s world. It provided me funds to go to college. I joined the active reserve. Each Monday night I donned my military clothes and was, for a few hours, in the Army again.
I resigned from the Army when I accepted a teaching job at USU. Most of my students were veterans who sought jobs with state or federal land management agencies in a nation at peace with itself. A few years later I returned to my home state at Texas Tech. A deranged man shot and killed our Navy veteran president, John Kennedy. He was succeeded by Army veteran Lyndon Johnson. Sad though I was, I was comforted that our leaders had military training.
When I returned to USU in 1970, Richard Nixon was president. Our young men were being killed and maimed in the Vietnam conflict — a “war” many Americans did not support. Anti-war demonstrations occurred on the USU campus. In May a peace march led hundreds of people down town. Supporting a war most Americans did not understand was no longer seen as patriotic. Love of country called for bringing our soldiers home, healing the wounds of war and turning our enemies into friends.
Armistice Day was a day of celebration, not just for the end of armed conflict, but for rebuilding the damages of war. It was a call to live in peace. It opened an opportunity for former combatants to work together to rebuild trust lost during war. Unfortunately well meaning folks renamed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. That shifted the holiday to a “we won, you lost” celebration not unlike winning a football game. I am one veteran who would like to see “our” day become Armistice Day again.
A little less than a fortnight from now we celebrate our greatest holiday, Thanksgiving — aka Turkey Day. Let it be a time to reflect on our good fortune and share our treasure and talents. If our favorite football team loses its Turkey Day game we should not let it keep us from being thankful and sharing our good fortune with others.