On Nov. 11, 1918, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of
the eleventh month, the Great War ended. After four long years of
terrible bloodshed in the trenches, Germany and Austria surrendered
to the allies. The armistice treaty was signed and the fighting
ended. That date was subsequently c
elebrated and called
By Burton F. Anderson
On Nov. 11, 1918, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the Great War ended. After four long years of terrible bloodshed in the trenches, Germany and Austria surrendered to the allies. The armistice treaty was signed and the fighting ended. That date was subsequently celebrated and called “Armistice Day.”
During the Second World War, the Great War of 1918 became known as World War I. Since World War II ended in August 1945 with unconditional surrender of our enemies, the “Armistice Day” designation of the holiday has held little relevance for veterans. Eventually, “Veterans Day,” superseded “Armistice Day” and became an observance to honor the veterans of all wars.
Of course our veterans have been called upon many times to carry our banner during the last 230 years.
Veterans are familiar to most of us – if only occasionally sitting at a table selling flags in front of a supermarket, marching in a Fourth of July parade or pictured reverently in front of the Vietnam “Wall,” the Korean War Memorial or the statue of the World War II Marine flag raising on Iwo Jima. Or, as an Iraqi casualty in every day’s newspaper.
A few other symbols of honor come to mind – a cannon standing in the square of a small prairie town, memorializing the World War I veterans; a Pennsylvania park at Gettysburg, a New England statue of the Revolutionary Minute Man. Familiarity, however, is superficial. Personal ties bind closer.
On occasion, we might fumble with old photo albums where snatches of personal history and genealogy peer from the pages, where patriots may glow in our blood line, and where pride engulfs our emotion. Venerating an old browned photograph, a copy of a tin-type, I have stared into the tired eyes of my great grandfather, a Confederate soldier in the 37th Mississippi Volunteers.
Stacy Washington Anderson spent four years at war, finally suffering a minnie ball wound to his thigh. And, after being captured by the Army of the Cumberland, succumbed to leg amputation at the age of 32 years. Stacy was a Southern patriot who believed in ideals, leaving a wife and four young sons to brave a Westward destiny.
Searching a family album, I gazed at an old picture in shades of gray where stiffly stands my father and his brother in uniform, showing the wrapped leggings of World War I soldiers in France. Thumbing through old nostalgic pictures, I find my uncle, Glade Ashby, a Clark Gable look-alike, in the uniform of an Army Air Corps colonel, who lead formations of B-17 bombers over the Pacific during World War II.
These are ancestors with ties closer than mere familiarity. They make us proud. And yet there is another kind of pride — pride in the veterans that we, who are veterans, have known, and pride in those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
Scribbled on a yellowed 54-year-old letter, a 20-year-old Marine – me — wrote from Korea:
“I’ve just about decided not to make friends over here. They just don’t last. This morning a patrol got hit, so 12 of us were sent up the mountain to help bring down the wounded.
The first one was “Little Jake.” He was a funny little guy. Always in a good mood. He had his guts blown out. They had to apply a large bandage to hold in his insides. I don’t know if he will live or not. The next one was “Harby” Harbison. We have been buddies ever since I got here. We were looking forward to going on liberty together. He got hit in the groin and thigh. The thigh bullet may have broken his leg. Another creased his scalp.
“I helped to carry him all the way down on a stretcher. It seemed like a mile down and it felt like it took hours. The path was unsparingly rugged and he suffered terribly. Hopefully, he’ll be back in the states in a few weeks.”
“Little Jake” didn’t make it. Almost 44 years later I learned that “Harby” did – for a while. Five years later, he died in a veterans hospital of complications from his wounds.
I remember the dying cry of Phillip André Lierse, just days before his 20th birthday in June 1951, when Chinese “Burp” machine guns riddled his body as he stood on watch beside a road in the gloom of a spring night.
Days later, I remember the moan that brought me to reality from the concussion from a blast of four close mortar rounds that wounded everyone in my machine-gun section except me.
He moaned beside me with deep wounds to his face and with his fingers blown off. He bled profusely and died shortly after. I did not know his name. He had been a replacement for only a few hours.
I also remember the September morning our planes rocketed the hill in front of our Marine infantry company – now with only half a company, really. The fighting had been severe and casualties heavy as we tried to take Hill 749 in eastern Korea, just north of the 38th parallel. During a lull, HM1 Billie Gene “Doc” Cooper, our corpsman, stood beside my “recently captured” North Korean foxhole that I had slept in the night before, telling me about his wife’s letters, reading about the new baby boy whom he had never seen.
I heard the “swoosh” of the mortar an instant before it hit; the explosion blew me to the bottom of the hole. Then, I felt the stinging of shrapnel in my back.
“Doc” Cooper, weeks before his 23rd birthday, lay face down in the mountain sand outside my hole. He was killed instantly.
Listening to another Marine, my cousin, I winced to hear his stories of Vietnam. A 20-year-old Marine sergeant of a small recon group, he prepared his men for night ambushes of the Viet Cong. He felt the fear of leading his men out of deep hostile territory, as his enemy searched to kill his small band.
These veterans of old wars performed in the American tradition as have the veterans of all the current world-wide wars, troubles and strife, from Desert Storm to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo as well as the current Iraqi war.
In a recent conversation, a friend asked, “Why do we have war?” My thoughts came quickly. “It’s said, Biblically, that there will be war and rumors of war until Armageddon.” As proof, glance at the history of mankind and note the propensity to be territorial.
“Can’t we just get along?” is not a viable philosophy. Thus, this nation must maintain a strong standing armed force. This is reality!
Truly, Ernest Hemingway stated a succinct observation when he said, “… there are worse things than war; and all of them come with defeat.”
Honor the veterans, the protectors of this country — yours and mine.
God bless America!