At the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918 the Great War—later to be known as World War I—the armistice was signed to end the fighting amongst the various nations. It was a solemn date that was later to be commemorated with a National Holiday to honor those who served and sacrificed—ultimately honoring veterans from all wars.
As a child, I was born too late to know firsthand of the hardships and deprivations that also was felt by those at home during wartime. I was told about WWII war rationing of gasoline by my Mother, and metal recycling by my Father who had served as a young man of 19. And my Grandmother had 1940’s era pictures of her son who served as an Air Force Captain, jauntily wearing a cap and a smile while sitting in a plane cockpit and his sister who served in the WACs.
And my childhood memories included obliquely hearing about the war in Viet Nam–because my much older cousin with whom I shared a birthday, was in military service. I know not the details of whether my cousin served stateside or overseas–nor what worry must have been attached to him being in the service. Just that his Mom, my Aunt, would send me XMAS Calendars from my cousin—the kind of calendars that you open up a window on each day to see some XMAS picture—on our mutual birthday. I suspect that it was my kind Aunt who sent them to me without his knowledge. Yet the small gift always made me think of my cousin fondly.
All in my family survived the wars they served in—blessedly so. And the wars affected them in different ways. For my Father, he rarely spoke of it—he was in an engineering unit in the Pacific late in WWII that helped to design and rebuild structures like bridges and roads. He was so young, a teenager, that he did not see direct fighting—or that is what he lead us to believe, perhaps to spare us becoming alarmed. The only remnant of his military service that we had around the house was a shiny silvery metal ashtray about 3 inches in diameter. It was round and heavy and had some engraving of palm trees on it–to dress it up, I suppose. As a child, I asked him once what it had been made from—since it was clearly a repurposed object. He said that it had been a shell casing. Of course, I didn’t know what that meant. But as I grew up and thought about it more—in the context of history lessons we were learning at school—I realized that the ashtray had once been a part of a weapon. Needless to say, that unnerved me. But remembering that it had never been used—due to its pristine condition–gave me some consolation.
But my Father’s WWII experiences also included being wounded indirectly —when a fellow soldier had found something in the ground, dug it up, removed a chemical compartment, and brought the rest of the item into a tent where soldiers were playing cards in their down time. The other soldier had apparently thought that what turned out to be a land mine, was defective. The soldier would turn out to be wrong when he tripped and dropped the landmine and it exploded. And my Father was wounded. My Father did not go into the details about how much others in the tent might have been hurt—or even killed—he just relayed that his foot still had some shrapnel embedded in it from that accident.
My Father was always very proud of this country—the U.S. And he would always fly the U.S. flag out front of our home on National Holidays—especially the 4th of July and Veteran’s Day. The last Veteran’s Day memory that I have with my father was after his strokes illness had taken its toll on him and he was confined to a wheel chair. The nursing home he was in had a Veteran’s Day commemoration service and invited all of their residents who served to sit up front and be recognized. I sat in the row behind my Father to keep watch over him—since he was very frail.
At the start of the Veteran’s Day program, the presenters read each Veteran’s name and gave them a certificate of appreciation. Dad smiled poignantly as he showed me his certificate. Then toward the end of the short ceremony, they asked for everyone to rise to sing the national anthem. My Dad struggled to stand—when he hadn’t walked or even stood for months. But even though he couldn’t talk, I could see it in his eyes that it was important to him to stand along with everyone else.
So with me standing behind him, I lifted up my Father up to a standing position with my arms under his armpits—I had learned how to do this lift two decades earlier when my Mother was bedridden with cancer. And then I held him there standing for the length of the song. He had lost so much weight, but it was still challenging to hold him up, so a nursing home staffer came over and helped to support him on one side. Dad was standing proudly with the other veteran’s—and I was proud of him.
So for my late Father, with love—and for all who have served or are serving their country—here is Taps as a musical tribute: