Proud to be an American, you bet. And so very thankful, especially on this and every Veteran’s Day, what my parents always referred to as Armistice Day. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 that for all purposes signaled the end of The Great War that was supposed to end all wars. My dad, who had turned eighteen that August of 1918 in Marinette, Wisconsin, was inducted into the army one morning and along with a group of his peers put on a train headed for basic training. During their journey word came through that the expected armistice with Germany to cease fire had indeed been signed in France; and when he and the other inductees disembarked, they were mustered out of the army and sent back home.
My heartfelt thanks go out to all the veterans who have served our great country over the many wars since. I’m old enough to have a few sketchy memories of WWII, including the tears our family shed for the handsome young airman who would never come home. And for the one who did return, having spent six months in hiding after the plane he was piloting went down in the Netherlands. Sixty-five years later my cousin still cried when he told me about his fallen comrades and the Dutch farm family who aided him and another airman. The head of that family paid the ultimate price, dragged away by the Germans and never seen again. Vietnam—like so many others, my brother-in-law returned with memories that haunt him to this day. And now our more recent battles: Iraq and Afghanistan, a nephew who served his second tour of duty there; a grandson who enlisted at the age of 18, trained at Fort Drum, and spent nine months in Afghanistan before returning with some disabilities, non-life threatening but serious enough to never leave him.
Proud and thankful to be an American, yes indeed. I’ve had the privilege to visit the U.S. cemetery at Ardennes Belgium where many of our military who died during the Battle of the Bulge are buried, their 5,000-plus headstones forming a Greek cross spread across acres and acres of impressive lawn. How well I remember Ann Frank’s house in Amsterdam, the tiny space she shared with other Jews in hiding; the Holocaust children’s museum in Budapest, its walls lined with crayon drawings by children in concentration camps, children who would never grow into adults. Nor will I ever forget others who died in the name of freedom: in Thailand the war museum in Kanchanaburi, dedicated to thousands of British, Australian, and other POWs who died during WWII while building what later became known as the Bridge of the River Kwai; and their final resting place, the Don Rak Cemetery nearby where almost 7,000 POWs are buried, the epitaphs on their headstones written by grieving families so far away. Thank you, Freedom Fighters everywhere.
Proud, indeed I am, and so very thankful to be an American, this and every day.
Reprinted and updated from November 11, 2012