Octo Observations: Lest We Forget

November is the month to be thoroughly thankful. Not only do we celebrate Thanksgiving, but as patriotic Americans, we remember Armistice (now named Veterans) Day, the day that ended World War I in 1918. On November 11, 1918 German military officials agreed to an armistice with French and British generals to end the vicious fighting of the four-year war. The initial signing occurred at 5:45 a.m. in Compiegne, France yet did not become official until 11 a.m. that same day. Hence, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Six months later the formal peace agreement was signed and known as The Treaty of Versailles. Not until 1938, however, did November 11 become a National Holiday. 

On June 1, 1954 President Dwight David Eisenhower signed a mandate to rename November 11 Veterans Day. This was motivated by a deep desire “to celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of all U.S. veterans.” Veterans Day is not be confused with Memorial Day, which remembers those soldiers who died in battle. On August 4, 2001, the U.S. Senate Resolution 143 designated the week of November 11 through November 17, 2001 as “National Veterans Awareness Week, calling for educational efforts to be directed at elementary school students to alert them of the contributions and sacrifices of veterans.” (I hope that is still in effect.) 

November 11 is a federal holiday, and although some banks remain open, the Federal Reserve Bank is closed, as are post offices and a few businesses. To honor our soldiers with a day of respectful tribute is the least we can do as grateful Americans.

Our country has been caught up in too many wars since 1918. Too many families have lost beloved sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, or brothers and sisters. So far, no end is in sight. World peace is elusive. We have battled enemies around the globe. Although conscription is no longer required, we revere our military men and women who volunteer to protect us. These are not easy times. To be a young person who willingly serves our country is a blessing of the highest order. 

Just last night we had dinner with friends whose beautiful granddaughter is studying at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Acceptance to the Academy has been her passion since she was a young teen. To prove her determination to receive a congressional appointment as well as to meet the rigid standards required, she took an extra year of study and training at an USAF sanctioned post graduate school. Her proud grandparents report that she is very happy, working hard, in the top third of her class and is now learning to fly a fighter jet. Due to the shortage of pilots, flying is a requirement for all USAF students. Kudos to Allie, and may God protect her as she works diligently to become a graduate of one of our finest American military colleges. 

Glancing back to the “olden days” of my childhood, young men and women of World War II era were swept up into military service after Pearl Harbor. Some young fellows even lied about their ages to join the service and fight for their country. Those days linger in our minds.  How truly fortunate John and I are to have a much-decorated vet as one of our longest and dearest friends. Allow me to share a story about this beloved man named Bill. Maybe you will share it with youngsters in your family.

On September 1 of this year, our friend (of over 45 years) Bill turned 97 years old. A widower who cared for his wife until her death five years ago, the energetic father of four, grandfather and great grandfather of many, he lives independently in his dearly loved house on the coast of Maine. Each day he walks outdoors for 90 minutes, fixes his own meals, attends church regularly and volunteers five mornings each week at the nursing home where his beloved wife spent her final days. He is sharp, he is fit, he is consummately caring. He is an American patriot through and through. 

Bill went to war as a young 21-year-old man. Prior to shipping overseas, he and his bride Lois hastily planned a small wedding. Like many other newlywed couples of those days, Bill and Lois had a 24-hour honeymoon before being separated for long three years. Assigned to General Patton’s army, Bill experienced vicious fighting. He never wavered, nor has he shared many of his battle experiences. Throughout his army tenure, he earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He was a soldier who served with valor and love for our country. He was a devoted husband of 65 years, father, friend and successful businessman. He is my definition of a true American hero…. although when I say that, his words are, “Hush, Joy.”

America celebrates our vets, as it should, yet far more could be done to help those affected by the rigors of combat or PTSD. Hopefully, Congress will enact measures to provide increased ongoing help, and each of us will endeavor to end the suffering of wounded warriors, the homeless, the drug addicted vets, and those whose lives have veered off track. 

Happily, as a positive example of national respect for our vets, a few weeks ago, our friend Bill and the other World War II vets of Honor Flight Maine were flown to Washington, D.C. for a weekend of remembrance and gratitude. It was a glorious time. For some men born and raised in Maine, this was their first ever trip to our nation’s capital. Bill’s daughter accompanied her dad, as each vet was allowed one “chaperone.” Most came in wheelchairs or on canes, and although many had never met each other, camaraderie was instantaneous. Red carpet treatment was rolled out by all government officials who planned the weekend. Each detail was meticulous and thoughtful, including a motorcade to and from the airport and all scheduled events. 

Cindy, Bill’s daughter, shared many beautiful pictures of her dad on her Facebook page. Bill’s radiant countenance tells the story of a man whose life continues to be well led. His love for his family, friends and country is like a beacon of hope for each of us and for all future generations. This week Cindy and I had a great chat, and her pride and respect emanated with each story. She told me about the simple but elegant new War Memorial unveiled in honor of the Honor Flight vets from all around the U.S. It is placed between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. A cloudless day filled with radiant sunshine shone down on all these valiant old soldiers…as befitting the occasion for The Greatest Generation.

When we spoke to Bill after his return home to Maine, his enthusiasm, appreciation and elation over the trip to Washington was boundless. A moment in time he will forever remember. Before our conversation ended, he shared news that he has been asked to speak to a group of local middle school children. Asking him what he might say, his response was immediate. “I want to look at each one of their young faces and tell them that because of our military men and women’s willingness to serve, you live in a free country. Each one of you ‘owns a little piece of America. And it is YOUR job to keep it safe and free.’” 

Bill’s words will echo in my head and heart always. May none of us ever forget to thank a vet, wave our American flag proudly, and respect the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. May we each “God Bless America”… Lest we Forget… plus the innumerable sacrifices of those who have served and continue to serve our beloved country. 

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

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