WWI ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 and the day became known as Armistice Day in the United States. By 1938, Armistice Day was a national holiday, and on June 1, 1954 Armistice Day became Veterans Day to honor veterans of all of America's wars.
I was fortunate to participate in a Veterans Day ceremony yesterday and was able to hear a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient speak. One of the things he said that rang true was that November 11th shouldn't be Veterans Day. Every day should be Veterans Day.
The capper of the day for me was visiting with an old timer after the ceremony was over. He walked up to where I was passing out food and drinks and I teased him about his Airborne cap, which had an 82nd Airborne pin proudly displayed on the front. I asked him who in his right mind would jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
"Hell, when I signed up in 1941, times were hard and when I saw they offered $100 extra bucks a month for jump pay, I took it. Had no idea what the hell jump school was but I needed the cash." Said he'd backed out of the Navy, because they wanted him to fly as he had a college degree - told me that he hated the damned airplanes and wanted nothing tod o with them. When he found out what jump school was he told me, "next thing you knew I was stuck back in a damned plane!"
I learned how he was deployed into North Africa, jumped into Sicily, jumped into Salerno, fought his way across Italy, jumped into Normandy, jumped into Holland, fought at the Bulge and then wound up in Germany at the end of the war protecting the border from the Russians. He took part in all 4 combat jumps of the 82nd Airborne during WWII. All. Four.
During our conversation, I was able to recall the names of the different operations - Husky, Overlord/Neptune, Market Garden - and he was surprised, and quite pleased that someone actually knew of what happened. I shudder to think why he was surprised that anyone would remember and I was more than content to sit there and listen to this man, this piece of history, tell me about his WWII experience.
When it was time to leave, we shook hands, and I left humbled by this man's sacrifice and the sacrifice that all of our veterans do for us. I began to think that the moniker The Greatest Generation was indeed true - and not just for the troopers that were fighting, but for the people that were at home, supporting the war.
The people on the home front who accepted massive, astounding losses without calling for the head of the Secretary of Defense; without whining "not in our name"; without barganing for more 'humane' treatment of the enemy; without harping at every negative turn of events and calling for an immediate return of our troops.
The 8th Air Force had missions in the early part of the war where they suffered over 70% casualties. 70%. During the Battle of the Bulge, 80,000 of America's bravest men were either killed, captured, or wounded in a matter of days. Yet the American public continued to support the war, and equally as important, to support the troops.
The current crop of Americans at home could learn a lesson from our parents and grandparents. It's clear to me that our troops protecting us now are doing their part to make our generation the next Greatest Generation. Now if only the people on the home front could show the same stamina and resolve of the WWII generation.
In this small way, I will do my part. Will you?
Thank you Veterans.