November 11, 2008

Paper Poppies

A few years ago, I stood at the top of what could only be described as a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy. On June 6, 1944, Operation Overlord - codename for the invasion of Normandy - was launched and 160,000 Allied troops swarmed the coastline, scrambled across the beaches and attempted the largest amphibious assault in the world's history. Standing up there looking down is awesome in the true sense of the word. You're immediately hit by three things - the wind, an impression of the vastness of the undertaking, and questions. Questions like what the hell was anyone thinking planning this? and how did anyone survive? The truth is, it was military genius and, in answer to that second question, many didn't.

Veteran's Day - or Armistice Day - was officially proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, commemorating the end of major hostilities of World War I. Armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The holiday was expanded to celebrate all veterans when an Emporia, Kansas shoe store owner decided to close his doors on Veteran's Day, 1953. His cause was taken up by Congressman Ed Rees who drummed up support from President Dwight Eisenhower. The rest, as they say, is history.

Every life lost there on that vast impossible battlefield in Normandy - along with every life lost in previous and subsequent conflicts - is someone who was loved, who had a family, who had a life separate from defending our country. They died doing something they thought was right, defending our country and, in turn, our way of life. Remembrance of those individuals must exist separate from political ideology and debates about morality. The people who go into battle are rarely the same individuals who made the decision to fight. Honor them.

Who do you remember, and how?

Posted by Chris at November 11, 2008 6:49 AM

col. george day, the name on my POW bracelet from the vietnam war... and the fact that it was told Charles Durning, the actor, was the only survivor of his troop during the invasion of Normandy... I just can't imagine that kind of pain...says he still has nightmares...

Posted by: the unicorn at November 11, 2008 7:20 AM

My son will be graduating from college in May as a second lieutenant, Field Artillary. It scares me to death but he was called to do this and loves it. He will go to Ft. Sill for more training and then to Germany. I am sure he will end up somewhere like Iraq or Afghanistan and I dread that day. But, he is who I think of already.

Posted by: Debbie at November 11, 2008 7:59 AM

My grandfather who immigrated to the US from Poland in 1907 enlisted for WWI (became a naturalized citizen on the army base)leaving a wife and two children because he wanted to help a country that had done so much for him. He came home but was never the same.
My father was in WWII with the AirForce on a airbase in England and his brother was in the Navy during WWII.
Our town has monuments for all the Wars - Civil, WWI, WWII, Korean Conflict and Vietnam listing the names of all the Wallingford residents who served with stars next to the names of those that died. They are at various parks along Main Street and in front of the Town Hall and on my Sunday walks I will sometimes stop and read the names and think about what they did for all of us.
And I always buy paper poppies!

Posted by: NancyJak at November 11, 2008 8:17 AM

My husband served his country during the Vietnam War. He was ostracized by many American's when he returned home after 2 years flying supplies across Vietnam and being shot down once. I am honored each day to be the wife of such a brave man. And I am still shocked and angered by those who took their political frustrations out on him when he returned all those years ago.

Posted by: Maribeth at November 11, 2008 8:31 AM

My great grandfather was a Vimy Ridge in WWI. ( My dad said that he was badly injured and years and years later he still had shrapnel coming out his back.

Today, The Boy asked if we could go down to the War Memorial Downtown to pay our respects. First time he's asked to go.

Posted by: Nat at November 11, 2008 8:34 AM

I remember my Grandfather, he fought in WWII. He didn't pass away until 11 years ago, but he was always very proud to have served. I think about a close friend's dad. He fought in Vietnam and, as is the case with many Vets, he's never quite been the same. His face got disfigured by scrapnal and he's still haunted by the things he did and the things he saw. I am also thinking about my friend C. He's currently in Iraq. I tell him I am proud of him for what he's doing and all he ever says is, "Eh, I'm just doing my job. Nothing big."

Posted by: js at November 11, 2008 8:36 AM

I remember my two grandfathers, both served our country in World War II. One of my Grandfathers was a medic in the Army and he was stationed in Europe. My other Grandfather was a Marine and served two tours in the South Pacific (he was at Guadalcanal to be specific). He actually volunteered to go back when his first tour was up, and when he had served his two tours of duty, he became a pilot instructor here in the states.

We'll be flying our flag proudly, and I'll be spending a lot of time today thinking about both of my Grandfathers, talking to Lady and Mister, and Sweet Baby about how their Great Grandfathers proudly (and Bravely) served their country, and praying for all those who have fought or do fight for our freedoms and way of life.

Posted by: chatty cricket at November 11, 2008 8:44 AM

It's Remembrance Day here, and we wear poppies to commemorate the war dead.

To remember, I've posted John Macrae's beautiful poem, In Flanders Fields, on my blog today. It was written in 1915, in France, by a Canadian soldier, doctor and poet in the trenches towards the end of WWI, during a lull in the bombings. It always brings tears to my eyes.

I remember my grandfather, who fought in Africa during WWII, part of the troops backing up General Montgomery in his campaign against Rommel in North Africa. When he left my grandmother in Swansea, Wales, to go over and fight, she was newly pregnant with my mother. He didn't get to meet his daughter for four long years. Could you imagine that? My mom still remembers the day that she was dressed up in her best clothes, her hair in ribbons, because it was the day her daddy was coming home. She told me of how excited she was, looking out the window and seeing this man walking up the drive and being told that he was her daddy.

I remember my grandfather, who was lucky enough to come home, and those who weren't as lucky. I think of our soldiers in Afghanistan today, and thank God that my friend Heather returned safely from her deployment to Kabul.

Posted by: alison at November 11, 2008 9:18 AM

Normandy Beach was literally a suicide mission for so many on the front lines ... yet they made it possible for those that bravely followed turn the war effort.

We owe them everything.

Posted by: ewe_are_here at November 11, 2008 9:42 AM

You captured Omaha Beach. I've been there and just the rows upon rows of tombstones is sobering. (And I also say kudos to my fellow Kansan for starting the holiday.)

Posted by: Heather at November 11, 2008 9:47 AM

My father who knew his number was coming up for the draft for Vietnam so joined the Army and went over, and remembers vividly coming home to Logan Airport, and being screamed at and spit on while walking through the airport, but only having tunnel vision to his huge family waiting for him with signs and huge smiles awaiting his arrival. And I make sure to thank any veteran and any active serving military men and women EVERYDAY not just today for their service to our country.

Posted by: Deirdre at November 11, 2008 9:50 AM

I always think of my grandfather who passed away 4 years ago. He was a WWII and Korea vet and was the kindest man I ever met. I always think of the story he told about seeing his brother for the last time. They served in different units but, by chance, ended up being close to each other in France. My grandfather spent the day with his brother, whom he hadn't seen for 4 years, and then found out the next day his brother had been killed. He also missed being sent to the Phillipines before the war...but some of his buddies were at Bataan.
I always buy poppies and fly my flag (which was the one my grandfather always flew). I am glad that he has the honor of being buried in Arlington but am sad also that I can't go and visit him today (Idaho is just too far).

Posted by: kali at November 11, 2008 10:18 AM

One of my best friends is in the Army Reserves and spent way too much time in Iraq and he came home and angry and bitter man, where there once was joy and teasing and laughter. It's taken him several years now to recover and he has decided not to re-enlist. A decision I respect. I never thought I'd get him back. And whereas he's back, he's not the same and it makes me sad. Because like you said, the people who go into battle are rarely the same individuals who made the decision to fight. And yet, he loves his country with abandon. Especially now that Obama has been elected. He was one of the first people's facebook page I visited on November 5th. If only to see his joy.

Posted by: k8 at November 11, 2008 10:30 AM

I'm remembering my grandpa today. He fought in WW2 and Korea. I found his Allied victory medal two years ago and it made me realize how much he saw. So despite any differences we may have had while he was alive, I'm just taking a few moments to appreciate his sacrifice. I have a distinct memory of his baseball cap. It was navy blue, for the Navy of course, and had yellow writing on it. I don't remember exactly what it said - his unit, I think, and Korean War. He had some pins on it as well, service awards or something. He wore it all the time though, I think right up until he died. :)

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at November 11, 2008 10:34 AM

My Great-Uncle Ted - he served in the precursor to the Air Force and then the Air Force in 3 wars/conflicts: WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He was a brave and funny man and told great stories. He and my Aunt are buried at Arlington - I will be visiting them this week.

Posted by: Sue R at November 11, 2008 10:44 AM

My Dad was a truckdriver in WWII. He was at Normandy D+2, bringing supplies to the troops who survived there.

Posted by: kalisa at November 11, 2008 10:51 AM

My dad was too young (born 1905) for WWI and almost too old (plus he worked for Remington Arms) for WWII.

The boys' dad served in Korea and his brother was in Vietnam.

And, of course, son Jim is in Iraq.

Posted by: Ann Adams at November 11, 2008 10:51 AM

I think about them all but today I've memorialized my Grandpa and his brother.

Posted by: Gwen at November 11, 2008 12:36 PM

Wow, that's a lot of replies...

One of my grandad's was in a commando platoon (excuse me, military buffs, if that's not the correct term) who stormed one of the beaches. I don't know which regiment; I don't know which beach; I don't know what day.

He'd never talk about it. I think perhaps because he didn't want my and my cousins growing up thinking was was "cool". Thing is, he died before I was old enough to actually figure this out and say "thanks".

So when I see a group of ex-servicemen, especially those who fought all those years ago, gathered somewhere I always make a point of just walking up to them and saying "thank you".

Posted by: Mosh at November 11, 2008 12:48 PM

Too hard to pick just father, both grandfathers, my uncles, my husband and I have all served and made sacrifices, it is our responsibility to maintain freedom and ensure a better future for our families.

Posted by: Steff at November 11, 2008 12:49 PM

I try to remember all those who have been named as "collateral damage" in all wars.

I remember my grandfather who was in the area near the battle of the bulge and my grandfather in law who happened to have been taken from his home by Nazi soldiers and forced to fight on their side; when all he wanted was to stay home and be with his family and raise wine and was an early release POW because there was evidence he was a conscientious man in war... I saw his papers.

I wish there was not a general hatred of things German at this time of year because people insult my husband in ways I could never personally accept... and yet he remains so gracious.

Posted by: blair at November 11, 2008 12:58 PM

i'm wearing my poppy today in canada for Remembrance Day. this day hits especially close to home for me. i remember my grandfather's ENTIRE FAMILY and my grandmother's ENTIRE family who were murdered along with 6 million other jews during world war II. their fathers. their mothers. their sisters. their brothers. they were the only ones who survived.

Posted by: ali at November 11, 2008 1:01 PM

My Father. Every day, with words and deeds and thoughts.

Poppies make me think of him all the more:

In Flanders Fields

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Posted by: Amy at November 11, 2008 1:31 PM

Dad was a Corpsman in Viet Nam. He left there in 1966 with one eye, a pound of shrapnel in his body, 80% hearing loss and more pain than anyone can imagine. He died in 2004, and I miss him every day. He's my hero, since no matter how racked up he was, he'd do anything for anyone, and didn't ask for anything in return.

Posted by: Amy at November 11, 2008 1:40 PM

My grandfather was at Pearl Harbor and it haunted him his whole life. He used to sell paper poppies for the VFW and whenever I see a poppy seller now, I buy one for him.

Posted by: rebecca at November 11, 2008 3:57 PM

Thank you for this. My husband will head back to war next spring. It means a lot when we see non-military people remembering the difference between politicians and soldiers.

Posted by: Meg at November 11, 2008 4:52 PM

Applebees is giving away a free meal to anyone with current or former military ID. Given how little our soldiers and sailors are paid, just something to pass on.

BTW - Memorial Day is the day to remember our fallen service people.

Veterans Day is for them, but also largely for our veterans still with us. I'd like to thank those who are without work, and wish them the best as they rebuild their lives after defending ours.

Posted by: alektra at November 11, 2008 4:58 PM

As a Canadian, we celebrate with ceremony, by attending and honouring and reciting "In Flanders Fields" (another commenter posted the words) wearing the traditional poppies over our hearts. We had them mailed to us here in the states this year. It's strange not to see everyone wearing them as most Canadians don a poppy in the week before Remembrance Day.

Posted by: Shannon at November 11, 2008 5:22 PM

Veteran's Day to me is remembering those that gave everything or nearly everything. Those that lost their lives, limbs, their minds and/or faced the demons that war brings out.

Veteran's Day is about honoring all veterans, but I tend to only think of those that gave the most.

My step-grandfather was a POW in Germany during WWII. He lost over 100 pounds and returned nearly bald as a young man as a result of an insufficient diet. His hair never came back. He has rarely discussed the war. He has briefly told the hubby and I (both vets) some of his stories over the years. He received a Purple Heart a few years ago as they never awarded him his medal, but he had the paperwork and looked into it. Darn if I can ever remember exactly he did to earn it.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at November 11, 2008 7:31 PM

My great uncle on my Dad's side was at D-Day and I think of the young man he was then and the old man he is today and wonder how it changed him. I also think of one of my best girlfriends who is serving in Iraq today. Thank god for them and for all the others who protect our freedom.

Posted by: La Petite Chic at November 11, 2008 8:06 PM

My dad was a military policeman in the Marines. One of many in my family to join the Corps.

Posted by: Sphincter at November 11, 2008 11:58 PM

I spent the day in hospital with my Granny, and ferrying Grampy back and forth for visits. They both served in WWII. To be with them today made the day so much more meaningful - to know that my Grampy cries when he remembers friends, uni chums, and fellow soldiers that he lost.

Posted by: Heather at November 12, 2008 1:27 AM