It didn’t seem like a big deal when I was a kid. There would be some event around Veterans Day and they would ask all the veterans to stand. Nearly every man in the room would stand. It just seemed normal that everybody’s dad had worn the uniform of our country.
When they stood, they stood tall and straight with their feet together. It was like a drill sergeant had just yelled “Attention.”
Move ahead 40 years.
The men and women who served in World War II are nearly gone. Read the obituary page of this or any other newspaper and you’ll see that. Of course, most of those who served in World War II are around the age of 90.
I can remember parades and events where we saw the last of the World War I veterans. They were the doughboys and they fought for this country in what was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Sadly, our country has gone to war several times since then.
I grew up in the Vietnam era and remember when young men from our neighborhood would be called up in the draft. Public opinion turned against the war and so did the attitude of many Americans toward those who had served in Southeast Asia. Unlike the end of World War II, there was no ticker-tape parade when the war ended and no famous photos of men in uniform kissing pretty girls when they arrived on our soil.
Today, we have 21 million veterans in the U.S. Fewer than 2 million are World War II vets. We owe all of them a debt of gratitude for their service.
When the first Gulf War began in 1991, there was a groundswell of patriotism in our country. The war was relatively short and we were successful. Folks felt good about country for a little while, and then we focused on something else. Veterans Day just became another excuse for retailers to have a sale. I pray that my memory of Veterans Day is not being at a mattress sale.
Veterans Day is on Nov. 11 for a reason. That was the date the armistice was signed that ended World War I. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a great veteran, declared it to be Veterans Day and was set aside for honoring all who have worn our nation’s uniform.
There is a bit of sadness today when they asked our veterans to stand to be honored. Those few remaining World War II soldiers and sailors are not the brisk men they were in my boyhood. Their steps are slow, if at all. Standing requires an effort and sometimes a hand from a loved one. But in their eyes is a love for this country that is just as strong as it was on that day they signed up to serve.
We have a new group of veterans. Modern technology and medical care is allowing many of those who are wounded to live, albeit without some of limbs they were born with. We not only owe them our gratitude, but must provide the care they need for as long as they live.
This is still the greatest country on earth and our veterans have a lot to do with that. The mere words “thank you” seems inadequate. Bless you all on Veterans Day and always.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.