Veterans’ Day memories reach across the years to embrace each of the generations who have unselfishly done their part to defend our American way of life. Nothing brought this home to me more poignantly than when I celebrated this sacred day by visiting to a chapter of the Military Officers of America Association.
This past week, I attended a Saturday morning breakfast meeting with MOAA to talk about my recent book, "American Spring: Lexington, Concord and the Road to Revolution," and the sacrifices of those who embarked on the road to liberty in the tumultuous spring of 1775. Those were Emerson’s “embattled farmers,” who made a choice and took a stand. But the vibes of Veterans’ Day 2014 hung heavy in the air.
In giving the invocation, the group’s aging chaplain spoke of the father-in-law he never knew. The man had died in a veterans’ hospital from the aftereffects of poison gas in the trenches of France during World War I. His daughter, the chaplain’s wife-to-be, was still an infant at the time. The chaplain himself had known duty in the Army in World War II. He spent time, he recalled, “chasing the Wehrmacht over that same ground.”
Almost everyone in the room had a relative, mostly fathers and uncles, who served in that great global conflict, when the difference between right and wrong seemed so clear and the battle lines were so easily drawn on a map.
My own father embarked as a nineteen-year-old draftee straight out of high school and ended up as a medic with the American Division in the Southwest Pacific.
There were veterans from Korea present and I remembered another, one of my mentors in the publishing world, who joined the Marines during the summer of 1950 when North Korea’s invasion of the South had many thinking, “here we go again.”
Most of the men and women present last Saturday morning were from the Vietnam era. The battle lines had blurred in those years when the political will to win softened, but that never diminished the determination and commitment of many of that generation—my generation—to give their full measure of devotion to the mission at hand. Most present knew at least one friend for whom it had been his or her last measure of devotion.
Those with less grey in their hair had served in the first Iraq war, Desert Storm. Many were still on call when the summons came to head for Afghanistan and then Iraq again. Several had done multiple tours.
The next generation was also represented. Naval ROTC midshipmen from the local university talked excitedly about their summer experiences onboard destroyers and submarines, while eagerly admitting that they wanted most was to hear “sea stories” from the Navy veterans present. Of course, they obliged.
Thus, there were three generations fully present and accounted for, as well as memories of an earlier generation that had fought “the war to end all wars” and the intentions of the coming generation preparing to take a turn and do their part.
The circumstances for each generation were different in degree, but the underlying reasons for their involvement were and remain the same: their country asked and they responded. They answered the call of duty. They stood the watch and fought the fight so that others might be free.
And today, they do it still.
Grandfathers, fathers, uncles, and more, we remember their commitment just as we pray for the safety and well being of the sons and daughters currently engaged on frontlines throughout the world. This Veterans’ Day, across all generations, we cherish their memories, we honor their sacrifices, and we pledge never to forget.
Historian Walter R. Borneman is the author of "MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific" just published by Little, Brown.