Thank you, America’s Veterans! *UPDATED*

I always have a difficult time on Veterans’ Day, trying to figure out what to say.  Words seem very inadequate to the task of thanking those who have given so much to defend the freedoms that we often take for granted.  My mind becomes a kalaidoscopic jumble of images — sepia photos of putti clad WWI troops; stark black and white images of WWII troops, storming beaches, holding woods, raising flags; muddy, grubby Korean War and Vietnam War troops, already starting to be abandoned by the American public; triumphant Gulf War troops, thinking maybe war isn’t that bad; and the brave men and women of my generation, fighting what is undoubtedly the greatest American existential war since the Cold War ended.

Layered over those frozen battle images are the Veterans themselves — men and women, some old, some young, who have resumed the lives the war interrupted, but who are still shaped by the battles they fought.  I know some of these people, fragile old people with memories of Bastogne and Normandy, Iwo Jima and Pearl Harbor.  For them, those times were the worst of times but also, for many, the best of times, since those years were defining moments when these men and women lived at adrenalin’s pitch, reached within themselves for qualities few of us ever know we possess, and made a stand for the most important value of all:  liberty.  Certainly that’s how my father felt about his five years of service in the RAF during WWII.  It haunted him, but it also gave him a sense of pride that was his companion until death.

I guess that I, always perched comfortably in the quiet of my suburban home, will be reduced this year to saying what I’ve always said in years past:  Thank you so much for the service you’ve given this country and for the sacrifices you were willing (and sometimes not so willing) to make.  Our current political class may desire, quite desperately, to gloss over your contributions to our freedoms, but I don’t, and I don’t believe most Americans do either.


And would you be surprised that others are blogging?  Two of my favorite Milbloggers, Blackfive (here and here) and Grayhawk, both have something to say on the subject.  As for me, as other links come my way tomorrow, I’ll update this post to add them.

Others writing:

Steve Schippert highlights his 2006 post about a vet’s stolen honor, reclaimed.

In, of all places, the Washington Post, David Ignatius pays homage to America’s amazing military.

Noisy Room has a post honoring our vets, and an excellent round up of other links.

Andrea Shea King honors America’s Forgotten Heroes.  (Although we here haven’t forgotten, have we?)

The Anchoress on great men you don’t know, some in the military, some just living lives of quiet service to their community.

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  • Jose

    In case anyone doesn’t know why November 11 is Veteran’s Day, it began as Armistice Day after WWI.  In 1918 both sides agreed to begin the cease fire at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
    My Grandfather was in the 28th Infantry Division and had recently fought through the Argonne, where the events surrounding the “Lost Battalion” and Alvin York occurred.  Granddad was skeptical of Alvin York as York’s unit arrived 10 days after the fighting began.  The 28th’s artillery never arrived and they basically got hammered.
    However, Granddad stated the shelling on Armistice Day was the worst he had seen.  Both sides were firing off everything they had until 11am.  He sustained his first combat injury that day, if you don’t count mustard gas.  A piece of shrapnel broke his wrist.
    Eventually he made it home and raised his family.  He never spoke much about those times, and it frustrates several of his grandchildren that we know so little of what he experienced. 

  • Ymarsakar

    John Ringo on the subject of the US military
    And quietly bear this pain with pride,
    For heaven shall remember the silent and the brave.
    And promise me, they will never see
    the fear within our eyes. (my eyes are closed)
    For we will give strength to those who still remain.

    So bury fear, while fate draws near
    And hide the signs of pain.
    With noble acts
    The bravest souls endure,
    the heart’s remains.

    Discard regret,
    That in this debt

    A better world is made
    And children of a newer day might remember
    And avoid our fate.

    I waited all day in the pouring rain,
    But nobody came,
    No nobody came.

    (Prepare for battle)

    And in the fury of this darkest hour
    we will be your light
    you’ve asked me for my sacrifice
    and I am Winter born
    without denying, a faith is come
    that I have never known
    I hear the angels call my name
    and I am Winter born

    Hold your head up high
    For there is no greater love
    Think of the faces of the people you defend
    And promise me, they will never see
    The tears within our eyes (My eyes are closed)
    Although we are men with mortal sins,
    Angels never cry

    So bury fear for fate draws near
    And hide the signs of pain
    With noble acts, the bravest souls
    Endure the heart’s remains

    Discard regret,
    That in this debt
    A better world is made
    That children of a newer day might remember, and avoid our fate.

    (prepare for battle)

    And in the fury of this darkest hour
    We will be your light
    You’ve asked me for my sacrifice
    And I am Winter born
    Without denying, a faith in God
    That I have never known
    I hear the angels call my name
    And I am Winter born

    And in the fury of this darkest hour
    I will be your light
    A lifetime for this destiny
    For I am winter born
    And in this moment…
    I will not run, it is my place to stand
    We few shall carry hope
    Within our bloodied hands

    And in our Dying
    We’re more alive- than we have ever been
    I’ve lived for these few seconds
    For I am Winter born

    And in the fury of this darkest hour
    We will be the light
    You’ve asked me for my sacrifice
    And I am Winter born
    Without denying, a faith in man
    That I have never known
    I hear the angels call my name
    And I am Winter born

    Within this moment
    I am for you,
    Though better men have failed
    I will give my life for love
    for I am Winter born

  • David Foster

    F Scott Fitzgerald on the First World War. This passage is from his novel Tender is the Night. The time is about 10 years after the end of the war. The setting is the battlefield of the Somme.

    Rosemary waited tensely for Dick to continue.

    “See that little stream—we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it—a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.”

    “Why, they’ve only just quit over in Turkey,” said Abe. “And in Morocco—”

    “That’s different. This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.”

    “General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty- five.”

    “No, he didn’t—he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.”

    “You want to hand over this battle to D. H. Lawrence,” said Abe.

    “All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love,” Dick mourned persistently.

  • Bookworm

    Back in the mid-1980s, as part of a visit to Europe, I found myself at the Somme, Ypres, Bastogne and Dunkirk.  Despite the fact that WWI had ended almost almost 70 years before, and WWII almost 40, those areas still had a sullen, depressed air about them.  There had been too much death there for cheer to reign.

  • David Foster

    I think the First World War had an impact on Europe from which it has not recovered and may never recover. When Americans make jokes about cowardice as some kind of inherited French trait, they should bear in mind things like this: At the French military academy of Saint-Cyr (the French equivalent to West Point) a memorial was erected after the war with the inscription “To the class of 1914.” Every single member of that class was killed in the war. Two important books about the impact of WWI on civilization and culture: –Paul Fussell’s “The Great War and Modern Memory” (nonfiction, and almost unbearably depressing) –Erich Maria Remarque’s “The Road Back”…a better novel, IMNSHO, than his much-better-known “All Quiet on the Western Front”

  • Bookworm

    David:  Just FYI, “The Great War and Modern Memory” is, in my humble opinion, one of the best books ever written about WWI or about any war.  I wonder if it’s still on college curriculums.

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  • Ymarsakar

    Foster, it was an un-natural selection. All the cowardly risk averse people would stay in the back and send in the brave, but yet cannonfodder.
    When Pershing came with the American Expeditionary Forces, the Euros called them Dough Boys, Pershing refused to have his people be separated and put into ‘holes’ in the British and French forces. The British and French commanders always needed more bodies, given the suicidal and ineffective attacks they ordered on machine gun emplaced defensive fortifications.
    Americans value the lives of their soldiers as more than just cannon fodder. The same wasn’t true of the French, which meant that their bravest died while their oldest and most cowardly survived. That’s the product that resulted in the Maginot Line’s INSUFFICIENT funding which led to its incompletion. Raise a generation of weaklings and cowards, from the product of older minds, and you’ll get nothing strong enough to stop a Nazi blitzkrieg.

  • David Foster

    Ymar…from what I’ve read, French tactics were marginally less mindless than British: in particular, attackers were usually given some discretion to use maneuver and cover, whereas British commanders tended to believe that their volunteers and conscripts could not be counted on to use individual discretion and initiative.

    There were many causes for the French catastrophe of 1940: re the Maginot Line, it would have been better to make it less elaborate but more complete. (“The best is the enemy of the good,” which I believe is actually a French saying.) But one major factor was extreme political factionalism, with the Communists calling for strikes and slowdowns in defense plants and the extreme rightists with slogans like “better Hitler than Blum.” Both business and labor contributed to the debacle with their resolute opposition to large-scale aircraft production outsourcing to the U.S., where an excellent French design could have been built with mass-production rather than craft methods.