Veterans' Day 2011
Veterans' Day has always been an important one for me. My family has served in the US military going back to before the Revolution (we fought on both sides in the "recent unpleasantness" as they say here in Virginia). A lot of the teachers I had in school were vets, as were family friends who I grew up around. When I was in school, US History class ended in June with, "the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, enjoy summer vacation," because we all had WWII vets as relatives and we got that history first hand from them. All of these relatives of mine were and are heroes to me. I could not begin to list all the veterans who have had an impact on my life, but I'd like to tell you about the ones that are relatives that I knew.
My Great Uncle, "Doody" Pace was in the Virginia Militia and got called up for the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916 under Gen. Blackjack Pershing. He was called Doody because he was a dude, known for playing the banjo and wearing a jaunty straw boater hat. When I was a kid, he was a retired railroad man. I well remember listening to his stories of the railroad, but not much of his trip south. I do remember that my 1st grade teacher thought I had some mental issues because I insisted that my uncle had fought in the Mexican-American War and was still alive. I wasn't crazy, just a little confused on the war.
Doody's best friend from the militia was James Wells. After getting back from Mexico, James married Doody's sister, and they had my Grandfather (aka Pop), Monroe Wells. Pop served in WWII as a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in the China-Burma-India theater of operations. He was a radio operator, and the war ended for him when he flew back to Wright-Patterson Air Field in Ohio with his .45 in a shoulder holster and some secret documents related to radio frequencies handcuffed to his wrist... the plane crashed while landing. He healed up just fine, and I have that .45 and the handmade shoulder holster, along with his service records. He saw me graduate from Parris Island boot camp, but died before I went to Desert Storm.
My Great Uncle Norm Donart was in the Army in WWII as a supply sergeant and one of his duties was inventorying weapons and other items captured from the Germans. He managed to send home a lot of guns and knives. I've got a pair of cutlasses and a Mauser rifle that he liberated. It's from Uncle Norm that I learned the phrase, "Stewed, screwed and tattooed, but not necessarily in that order." He was quite the character.
My Great Uncle Bill Flournoy was 32 when he left civilian life to enlist. He'll be 100 this coming May and is still as sharp as a tack, but he has never really spoken about the war. As an office worker, they made him a clerk, but he was always at or near the front. He served under Gen. Patton and soon made Master Sergeant. Uncle Bill once told me the story of being in a hotel or castle or something that Patton was using as a temporary headquarters. The general came in to a room raging about something at anyone who was in his line of sight. My uncle ducked behind a drapery to avoid the wrath. Two things really affected my Uncle... he was in the liberation of a concentration camp, and personnally typed all the letters to the parents of the young men who were killed. Last year, I took him to the Virginia War Memorial for the dedication of their new learning center, and I tried to get him to open up a little bit about the war. He told me about typing the letters, and he still remembers the line that he used in each letter, "His gay and ebullient spirit endeared him to his comrades." Nearly 70 years later and he had to tell so many parents that their sons would not come home that he still remembers it plain as day. He told me that after he is cremated, he wants his Bronze Star, his 300 game bowling award, and his hole in one award to surround his urn in alcove, just to have folks wonder what kind of guy he was.
My Step-Dad, Paul Fleming, joined the Navy in WWII, fresh out of high school. He served as a gunners mate, mostly on Liberty ships in the North Atlantic, and later in the occupation of Japan. Back in the mid-80's he got the Murmansk Medal from the Soviet Union for his part in the Murmansk Run convoys to carry life saving provisions to the people of the Murmansk region, while under attack the whole way from Nazi U-boats and even Luftwaffe bombers for part of the journey. He was a Massachusetts native, but after the war, he used the GI Bill to go to college in West Virginia, then became a teacher in Virginia. He passed away two years ago, and never lost his Massachusetts accent.
My Dad, Gary Green, served two years in the Washington National Guard in the early 60's. My Uncle Jim Wells served a hitch in the Virginia National Guard in the early 70's. Both went on to very successful careers in business.
My Uncle John Wilson served as an Army MP in the late 60's. He spent most of his term in Germany, and even into the 80's kept his utility uniform starched and ready to go. He passed away two years ago, and I'm proud to have his uniform name tape and big brass MP whistle.
Back in '86, while I was in USMC boot camp at Parris Island, SC, my cousin, Jason Donart (Uncle Norm's grandson), was in USMC boot camp at San Diego. He pulled his four years working in supply and as a marksmanship instructor.
That's my family veteran roll call. I'm proud of all of them and grateful to have had them as influences in my life. I can't even begin to list all my friends over the years that are veterans of every branch and from every war (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan). I know that a lot of you are veterans, and at least one reader is the wife of an active duty soldier. To all of you, I say, thank you, and God bless you for your service and dedication to our country and freedom. Semper Fidelis!