Archives for posts with tag: Veterans Day

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A pale blue sky laid its canopy over the field blanketed mountain, as I approached a special place in Rising Fawn, Georgia. I had hiked down to the waterfall at Cloudland Canyon another time, without knowing the area was the home of a remarkable hero. When I did know, it was arranged for me to meet the man known then more by word of mouth than any prominent fame.

I was a little nervous. Congressional Medal of Honor recipients are a rare breed, which makes meeting one a rare honor. As soon as you are in their presence, any nervousness melts away in the warmth of your welcome. Stepping into the home of Desmond and Dorothy Doss was like visiting grandparents you’d never met. Complete with cookies and a cool drink.

As is usually the case with true heroes, Desmond Doss was a humble man. Exuding kindness, he offered a handshake and a sweet smile that in no way diminished his reputation as the
hero of Hacksaw Ridge. I can understand why he met his admiring public by appointment. Being prepared insured the experience would in no way disappoint those who made a special trip to meet him and shake his hand. I think, perhaps, it also gave him time to breathe and ready himself for the inevitable trip back in time that visitors would set him off on.

There was the matter of his cochlear implant, as well. It was explained that facing him directly to speak would help the marvelous technology to pick up sound and help him hear. It was a bit disconcerting for me and probably less than comfortable for him, but he made no complaints, just praise for the device.

He gave a sort of informal presentation and answered questions, with dignity and grace and the far off look in his eye that is so common among the WWII veterans who are able to share their stories. Being in his presence was a quiet, sobering, unforgettable experience. One that I’ll never forget. I’m glad to be able to remember it once again and share it on this Veteran’s Day.

Today we think of those who serve to keep us safe. Past, present, and most likely far into the future. Conflict, operation, outright war…these events are  part of our collective memory and those who fought their way through them are the strengthening threads that run, often unnoticed, throughout our daily lives. The participants have been revered, honored, and sadly sometimes vilified.

I’ve been fortunate enough to know several veterans of foreign wars. Young and old alike they share that enigmatic stare that seems to look back, to the future, and deep inside simultaneously. They hate what they had to do, yet are happy to have served…and survived. They are all heroes, with or without the visible medals that mark them as such.

There is another group that I’ll call the shadow veterans. In modern times they are the families of active duty soldiers. The glue that holds the heart in place, whatever may come. In the past these shadow veterans were joined by circumstances at home that changed the fabric of reality and demanded more than love, support, and tears.

Ordinary citizens who were never drafted except by their sense of duty. I’m not sure how widely spread awareness is today of the women who risked their lives during World War II right here at home. Sometimes they’re lumped into the larger, more familiar term Rosie the Riveter. I don’t know if there was an official term or even admiring nickname for these brave women.

I do know more about them than most. I grew up in an area with a munitions plant, and heard the words “I (or She) worked at the arsenal.” my entire life. Long before I was born, as World War II raged across Europe, many farm boys and their entire healthy male family marched onto troop ships and set sail for the front lines. And many, many of the women they left behind quietly went to work assembling the munitions that made the technology of World War II combat possible.

The danger was great, the risk high, and the courage phenomenal. They worked in what amounted to a giant bomb on a daily basis, knowing full well that every one of those days was a deadly accident waiting to happen. Why would they risk their lives like that? I’m sure any extra money was some part of the motivation in times of rationing and scarcity, but the refrain I heard from reminiscing family, friends, and neighbor ladies was invariably “To help our boys”. Danger and risk of life was never mentioned, unless they were pressed for an answer on why they did it. “But weren’t you scared?” “Of course I was, but it had to be done.”  “Did you think about what those bombs would do?” “Of course. But I tried not to. It was hard…but it had to be done” That old phrase from the movies never rang more true.

For the boys.

Those ladies forged lifelong friendships. Working side by side in trenches made not of mud and blood, but of metal and TNT. They went on to be mothers, grandmothers, teachers, doctors, and the quiet elderly neighbors who smile knowingly at The History Channel and could recite the precise millimeter measurements of specific antique shells…if only someone was interested and knew to ask. Those sweet elderly faces, lined with wrinkles and a hint of steel.

Sometimes even the children of such great women say the words, “Oh, yeah, she worked at the arsenal.”, without ever having given real thought to what they meant. They don’t realize how proud they should be of these quiet heroes.

So, today, I’m reminded and I’m proud. They did it for the boys. The boys we hold in remembrance today, and hopefully throughout the year. Those boys who became some of the veterans we revere, and the girls who are veterans as well. Largely unknown and unsung, but heroic all the more for it.

I’ve spoken with a number of veterans over the years. They span generations, wars, and now that the future is here…centuries. It is always a privilege and an honor.

There are different types of war veterans. Some speak of their experiences as casually as the rest of us might discuss a book we became immersed in as we read it.
They lived it, it is now a part of their lives, memories flowing across the landscape of their minds like a familiar river.

Others discuss the wars they lived rarely and with some reluctance. Their experience was filled with rage and compassion, fear and heroics, honor and courage and questions for which they will never find answers…even across a lifetime of pondering. They speak of it when they do because they want others to know their living history, to pass it on, and perhaps be a small part of the reason war may never come again.

Another group of veterans do not speak of what they went through. Ever. They acknowledge that they fought in battles. They may say where and when. They may not. Some were prisoners of war, and underwent horrors they find unspeakable. Others simply saw so much death and carnage that they have no desire to relive it through articulating what it was like.  Someone who sees their friends killed in front of them, perhaps in situations they missed themselves by minutes called luck or fate or faith, need to keep that knowledge to themselves. I respect that.

The ones I respect most of all spent at least one moment locked in life or death combat, close enough to look into the face of the enemy and for a fleeting moment recognize someone’s husband, father, child. Because of their training, their courage, their desire to protect their comrades, their families back home, and that very homeland itself they take that life. One or many. They operate out of instinct and patriotism and honor and courage and love…and they live with the knowledge of the urgent necessity that forced them to go against their own natures to do the unthinkable.

Some veterans who carry that experience with them for decades do not speak of it. It speaks for them through service records, citations of heroism, and the words of awed comrades. For some their names become legend, while their lives are spent in mostly silent contemplation. They receive their honors and titles and medals with a dignity that shines from their inward turned gazes. Some may tell a trusted cherished few, while others live a life of silent, persistent  memory, and I hope pride in what they did for the rest of us.

It’s the silent soldiers I think of most deeply on Veterans Day and many others. I hope they find solace in knowing how much we honor them and love them, as we remember their service and their sacrifice.