Veterans Day, 2015

        Happy Veterans Day to all who served, giving their time, and often their health and their lives, in the service of their countries. 

        Veterans Day always makes me remember something that happened when I was a Docent at the Civil War Museum in Philadelphia.  It was an interesting place, originally started by an association of retired Union Army officers, who donated their collections of memorabilia, much of it legendary. As they died off, the house in which they met was established as the museum. 

        People often came to look up relatives or ancestors (I found two of mine, and it was like meeting old friends) and research for theses or novels (as did I).   

        I enjoyed the time, and the collections themselves had interesting stories, some of them sad, some of them very amusing.

        I remember one afternoon, though, when I paused to speak with another docent.  He was laughing at something that had just happened. 

        “Oh, someone came in and wanted to look up his great-grandfather or someone.  Said he’d served in the Union Navy!  He wanted to know about the fellow, find the name of his ship.” 

        “Did you find him?” I asked, remembering how hard it had been to find Josef Myers of Ohio, my great-great grandfather. 

        “I certainly did.”  The other was laughing.  “Yeah, I found him!  Hah!  He spent the entire war assigned to a ship that stayed in Philadelphia.” 

        I frowned, but said nothing more.  I did mention it to my father, who had served as a naval officer in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  Dad, bless him, summarized things in his usual pithy fashion. 

        “He thought that was laughable?” Dad said.  “I bet he never served.  Listen: that man went where he was sent and did what he had to do.  He had no say in whether they were fighting other ships or enforcing the blockade.  For all he knew he might have been sent into battle at any moment.  He was a veteran, with no reason to hang his head and feel foolish.  I hope that fellow was proud of his grandfather, no matter what that idiot said!”

Ah, Dad!  I still miss you.  Happy Veterans Day to all who served.

Veteran’s Day

I come from a long line of people who picked up their weapons and fought for causes that they thought worthy.

An ancestor from Besancon, France, Francois Durand, came over and settled in the American colonies.  When the American Revolution broke out, he enlisted in the Continental Army and was tapped to serve as interpreter for the Marquis de Lafayette.  Personally, I suspect  Lafayette probably spoke better English than Francois.  Not sure, though…  Lafayette was reported to speak broken English when he returned to the United States early in the 19th Century.

Other ancestors fought in that conflict (and since my great-grandfather hailed from Hesse Cassel and came from a military family, I suspect we may have had a few Hessian mercenaries in the background.)

The American Civil war came along, and my great-great Grandfather, Theodore Wilder, a student at Oberlin College, signed up at the very beginning along with a company of his college friends to fight against slavery.  Yes, they actually said that: they wanted to see the end of slavery.  Great-great Grandpa ultimately died for that cause, though his wounds did not kill him until 1872.  He was badly wounded in the battle of Cedar Mountain in western Virginia (‘Slaughter Mountain’, they called it).  He was saved by a farmer and his fiancée, as the story goes.

(Serving years later as a docent in the Civil War Library and Museum, I encountered the memoir he wrote of that time.  He only used his initials; imagine my surprise when I learned that the writer with the dry, humorous tone was an ancestor.)

November 11 is called ‘Veteran’s Day’ in the United States now.  I suppose I could go on about the various other veterans in my family and the wars they served in, but I want to mention a veteran who is dear to my heart.  My father, who died a year ago in August.

I knew him for a wonderful father before he died, and I’m glad I did.  At every turn I find reasons to thank God that he was my father, that I had his kindly, stern and laughing presence in my life.

On this Memorial day, however, I think it appropriate to pass on something he said to me.

Dad joined the U.S. Navy during World War II.  He entered the top secret Radar program, and served as a radar officer during the war and afterward.  He attended law school and served in the JAG (Judge Advocate General) corps.  I did not know until after he died that he had helped to set up the system they have now.

At any rate, Dad was a veteran and a serviceman, retiring as the Judge Advocate General for a U.S. military district.  He then went into the practice of law as a civilian.  Not surprisingly, he had a few things to say about some of the crooks he encountered.  He also had a low tolerance for idiots.

A few years back Tom Brokaw wrote the book The Greatest Generation.  I had long thought that the people who lived through World War II, whatever their country, certainly had earned that title.  There was a time, for example, when the only thing that stood between Hitler and world domination were the stout hearts and determination of the people of the UK.

I said so to Dad – about his generation.

His words were typical:

I don’t know about that, Diana.
We did what we had to do when we faced what we were facing.
You, too, would do the same if you were in that situation.

Generous words.  Dad was wise, and I think he was probably right.  It is good, though, that we have not yet had to face that sort of test, though we have faced some others.

So, this Veteran’s day, I thank all who put their lives, their income, their health on the line in our behalf.  Those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and those who gave their whole lives and retired.

Thank you all.