Veterans Day as a Time to Reflect

By Robert Mark on November 9th, 2017

Veterans Day as a Time to Reflect

Funny how another person can make you think differently about something you thought you already understood. For me it’s my time in the military, the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s to be precise.

When Jetwhine contributor Micah Engber mentioned a Veteran’s Day podcast a few months back, I wondered why. He’d never served. But his idea for telling a unique story kept bugging me until I realized here was a non-vet with something to share and me, a real vet … I had nothing.

It took me awhile to come to grips with my issues. Turned out I’m pretty burned out on all the sloppy love people seem to have for vets these days, tossing around “Thanks you for your service,” and sticking “we support our troops” on the butt end of their cars as if that alone makes a difference. President after president seems not to understand that we all too often forget about these men and women once they come back stateside … the one time when Americans could actually put their money where their mouthes and their stickers are. It’s the insincerity of it all that makes me want to scream at times. Could it be worse, sure. When I left the Air Force in the 70s, people were generally indifferent to service men and women.

But listening to Micah’s stories of his grandfather and dad made me realize the two great wars taught him things in a way I never experienced. My dad wasn’t a vet. I don’t fault him for that since he had a hearing problem from the time he was a kid. But it meant there was no one in my family to hear stories from or ask questions of.

I think Micah grew up listening to those stories, but actually grew up as he listened. He grew when he asked the questions others thought he should have left alone. After this seven minute piece, I realized I was envious of Micah. While I’m glad he had that time with the guys in his family, I wished I’d been able to share the same thoughts with my family and people who wanted to know more. Maybe I will some day. Until then, have a peaceful Veterans Day.

Rob Mark, publisher

Veterans Day (script)

Here in the USA Veteran’s Day used to be called Armistice Day. It celebrated the end of World War I. We celebrate it on November 11 as the treaty between the Allies and Germany was signed at Compiègne, France on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. If I understand it correctly, this same day is celebrated in Britain and the Commonwealth countries as Remembrance Day. A far more dignified and appropriate name. As usual here in the USA we changed the nature of the celebration and have turned it into something else completely, but at least we haven’t changed it to a “Monday Holiday” well, not yet anyway.

I grew up with a great respect for Armistice Day in my house. My grandfather, Grandpa Max, served in the US Navy in World War I, and during the Mexican Campaign before that. Some listeners may remember that he and I shared our first ever flights together in August of 1969, he at the age of 73, me at 13.

My father, Lew, was a World War II veteran of the US Army and was a called back to The US Air Force as a retread for Korea. He was rightfully very proud of his service, and I was, and still am quite proud of him as my Dad. He was part of that group of people called “the greatest generation” by newscaster Tom Brokaw, so were most of my mother and father’s friends and family. I was raised by this generation, as well as the generation before, that fought World War I.

As part of “The Greatest Generation” at the age of 18 he was drafted out of his engineering studies at CCNY and landed in England on his 19’th birthday. He would have been one of the first to land on Omaha Beach during D-Day but looking back on it, I suppose he was fortunate to have been injured during the preparations for that invasion; suffering with both head and back trauma that plagued him the rest of his life, fortunately though, it did keep him off the beach that day. I’m not sure I would be here if he weren’t injured then. Those injuries didn’t keep him out of the war though.

After the war, Lew went back to college, but having spent so much time building and destroying bridges in the Army Corp of Engineers, he realized engineering was no longer his passion and he became a psychologist. I suppose in some ways this made him more valuable to the Armed Forces as when he was again drafted, this time as a “re-tread” for the Korean War; he was inducted as a Second Lieutenant for the then newly formed US Air Force Medical Corp. After being introduced by mutual friends, in the summer of 1955 Lew and my mother Harriet were married, I came along a little over a year later.

Now growing up my Dad and I would watch many World War II films together. Some we saw in theatres, some we saw on TV, all of them we would watch together over and over.

While watching those films with my Dad I would ask him questions, questions about his service, about his experience in the war, questions I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to ask. My Dad, being a teacher and a psychologist didn’t discourage me, he knew they were innocent questions and used those times to teach me and tell me about his experiences, as much as he could anyway. I suppose he realized that talking to me about him “having seen the elephant” was good for both of us.

He also taught me the etiquette about asking so I’d have a better understanding of veterans. I think watching those films with my Dad, and him teaching me about “The War” helped give me a great respect for our military and the sacrifices they made, and continue to make to this day, in defending we civilians.

Thinking back on that makes me think of the word hero and its definition. No, I’m not talking about the sandwich, something I also learned about from my Dad and “the greatest generation”, I’m speaking of the men, and yes, based on the societal norms of the time, most often men, who risked their own lives to save others.

You see heroes aren’t sports figures or actors or singers. Celebrities aren’t heroes, unless the heroism didn’t come from their celebrity status. Heroes are the people doing their job, not thinking or maybe at the time not caring about their own safety, when they act to save the lives of others. Most heroes aren’t celebrities and don’t look for nor want that status. Heroes walk among us though, and most often, we unfortunately don’t know them. In truth, they probably wouldn’t want to be known, as they don’t think of themselves as heroes. Most would say, I was just doing my job, and to me, that’s what makes them heroes.

Now although my father probably wasn’t a hero to anyone but me, let me tell you what may be an apocryphal story about him. While I was growing up, he owned a 1914 32ACP German Mauser handgun that he captured during the war. I asked him how he got it and he explained that it was all a big mistake.

You see it was after VE Day and Dad was still overseas. He was somewhere along the Belgium Luxembourg German border. Things were safe and he was out at a local pub, “drunk as a skunk” he would say.

He didn’t know much German but while overhearing a conversation at the next table he was sure he strung together enough to know that a German Colonel had not surrendered and was hiding out in a house in the local village.

My drunken father dutifully went to report this to his commanding officer, who was not pleased. The CO could see my Dad was drunk, and knew he didn’t speak any German. The commanding officer sent him to his barracks and ignored him. Not to be ignored Lew stormed back into the duty office and insisted that they needed to go to the address he had, and arrest this German Colonel. This time my Dad was sent back to his barracks escorted by MP’s who stripped him down to his skivvies and put him to bed.

Still not thwarted my father returned to his CO and insisted he had to go arrest this Colonel. The CO must have been some understanding kind of guy and didn’t throw my drunken father in the brig, but took him and a couple of MP’s to this house to prove that there was no German Colonel hiding out in this fully cleared area.

They entered the house and sure enough, there was a German officer hiding out there, he was at the top of the stairs and drew his side-arm, a 1914 32ACP German Mauser, and started firing down at my Dad, the two MP’s and their CO. Lew, still being, drunk thought to himself, “somebody has to get that gun” and went charging up the stairs to take it away. The German Colonel, either stunned at this stupidity, or out of ammunition, we’ll never know, stopped shooting and my father seized his weapon.

Stupidity, drunkenness, heroism, maybe bit of all of that, but when my Dad after telling that story in his joking, good natured and raconteurial manner, was asked why he didn’t get a medal, he would say he was just lucky he didn’t end up in the brig and lose his good conduct ribbon. You see my father may have been a hero to me for various reasons, that being one of them, but it’s not the prima facie basis of it.

It does make me think though of other heroes. There’s a former US Air Force pilot I know, who among other duties during his service, was a flight instructor. He wasn’t just any flight instructor though, he would instruct many pilots about to wash out, and was usually able to get them back on track and into the sky, making real USAF pilots out of them.

Then there’s this former RAF pilot I know, who also among other things during his service, would hear a klaxon alarm and hop into his F-4 Phantom II and run off to chase down and intercept Russian Bear Bombers. He’d show them we were ever ready and not going to be surprised by them.

Through their service, both these pilots helped in keeping a Cold War from going hot, and creating the kind of heroes that most often come to mind when we think of Veteran’s or Remembrance Day.

So as a civilian with a great respect for those who serve in our military, I want to extend my thanks to all of you who did and do serve there. Thanks for keeping us safe, thanks for just doing your job.

For Jetwhine, here in Portland, Maine

This is your Main(e) man,

Micah

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One Response to “Veterans Day as a Time to Reflect”

  1. Glen Says:

    Very well said as always my friend. My Granddad was in RN and never really talked to me about WW2. I only wish he had but he died many years ago.
    I am still doing my bit with the NZ Army and I did go to Iraq with the British army and we had some interesting times over there but nothing like your Dad must have seen during WW2.

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