Yesterday was Veterans Day, where people remember their friends and relatives, alive and deceased, who put their lives on the line for their country. Many organizations are observing it today.
Vets from every war and skirmish should get their due respect Veterans Day, even if they are like a friend of mine who served during the Vietnam era at Fort Dix and other New Jersey locations. He laughed about fighting the Battle of Bayonne. Still, he and all other vets took time out of their lives to contribute to our safety, and we thank them all.
As each Veterans Day passes, fewer and fewer of the Greatest Generation remain to be honored. The people who fought back the worst dictatorship ever known to humankind are now in their 80s or 90s. It is so vital that they be honored and that those of us left behind hear their stories of service during the difficult time.
That’s why I was so glad to hear that Rocky Boy was paying tribute to its oldest living veteran, Ted Russette Jr., who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
Some of those who participated in the war went on to distinguished careers in the military or served in veterans’ organizations. Most, like my father, went home, raised their families, had careers and performed even more public service.
Most veterans, I found out, were like my father. He rarely talked about his service. He answered our questions, but quickly moved on to other topics. He didn’t keep in touch with shipmates who served with him on the Farenholt, a destroyer in the Pacific. That is, until he was in his 60s. There were a couple of Farenholt reunions, but he was too busy to attend. It was the third or fourth reunion that he eventually attended. Turns out he wasn’t the only one who skipped the earlier reunions. Lots didn’t bother to go, but as time went on, they thought it was a good idea to rekindle the close relationships they had with the people they spent such an important part of their lives with.
After my father died, my mother and I kept attending the reunions. Like many other sons, daughters, wives and even grandchildren, people kept attending the reunions as sort of a tribute to those who fought in the war.
I learned a lot about veterans at these sessions.
They had a touching session where they honored those who had died since the last reunion. A ship’s bell rang and a candle was lit with the reading of each name.
And from time to time, they would mention the battles their ship was involved in.
But most of the time, they laughed and joked about the tomfoolery that took place on the ship. Sixty years after the war, they still harassed the cook about how terrible the food was.
They saved the world from the Nazis and the Japanese empire, but they looked back on the time they joked around in the midst of the most dreadful war in history.
I learned so much from listening to their stories.
That’s why I still delight in hearing the stories of the war in Europe, Africa or the Pacific. I heard first hand the stories you won’t read about in the history books.
That’s why I hope other people will take the opportunity today and in coming years to thank those who served in World War II. Thank them for dedicating part of their lives to defense of our country and our way of life. Thank them for helping to save civilization.
But then, listen to their stories. They have great tales to tell.
(John Kelleher is managing editor of the Havre Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com, (406) 265-6795, ext. 17 or (406) 390-0798.)