One of the bonuses about living where we do is that most area communities celebrate Veteran’s Day. City crews and volunteers rise early to hang Old Glory on one light pole after another down Main Streets in little towns. Often times, local residents add their own flags to the mass of fluttering red, white, and blue.
In some towns, school kids construct floats to honor local heroes. Students and teachers spend an afternoon assembling patriotic displays to show their appreciation for the sacrifices these veterans made. Often times the people honored are relatives so youngsters have heard the stories behind the uniforms they see at this event.
In addition to parades and similar events, local newspapers and radio stations run tributes to heroes so anyone who cares can learn something about these patriots. For many, these annual special pages are reminders of friends and loved ones’ sacrifices. Readers can view an elderly neighbor or relative photographed in the bloom of uniformed youth.
These annual celebrations are one way that small towns across the plains link generations. It reminds me of joining green and red strips of paper together to make a Christmas garland. In the case of Veteran’s Day tributes, the glue happens to be the stories younger generations learn from older ones.
Over the years, my students have interviewed veterans and recorded remarkable accounts. After every one of these assignments, kids came to class surprised to learn that people in their community had witnessed history before it was in history books.
In my own family, one uncle survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor and continued fighting in the Pacific until the war was over. Another uncle protected supply ships in the Pacific. My dad joined the Marines and fought in Korea. A cousin did two tours of duty in Vietnam. A nephew served in Romania. Two second-cousins have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many area residents recite similar litanies. I’ve joined family, students, colleagues, and friends in the waiting and praying for loved ones to return safely from current war zones. These warriors’ stories are our towns’ stories as well. Veteran’s Day reminds us of this.
It’s good to know details so we realize that people we see as ordinary citizens are more than that. They are extraordinary. One area WW II vet serving on a ship in the Pacific witnessed the atom bomb exploding over Hiroshima. Another man, whom many would consider a small town Everyman, was one of the first Americans to enter newly liberated Dachau. Another visited Hitler’s final residence not long after his suicide. An area resident survived the war as a German POW. The kindest man I’ve ever met survived horrific conditions in the Pacific and returned determined to make other people’s lives better. His list of successes was long. A colleague’s father survived every major battle in the European theater and came home to raise a fine family.
Veteran’s Day celebrations remind us that unsung heroes walk amongst us. Some people we see simply as neighbors, fellow employees, and loved ones are people who lived Omar Bradley’s definition of bravery. He said, “Bravery is the capacity of perform properly even when scared half to death.”
Thank you to all who serve.