For most people Veterans’ Day is just another day where the banks are closed and the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t deliver mail. If you work for the government, a financial institution or a few other employers you probably get the day off and might get an early start on your holiday shopping or simply relax. Most schools don’t take it off, probably don’t even mention its significance. You might remember to fly the flag, provided you’re not one who now finds it offensive. Numerous shows on TV such as the History Channel broadcast documentaries related to various wars, which you may or may not watch. If you know a veteran from a past or present war it probably means a little more. What does this day mean to you?
For me it’s a time to remember those I know who have served or are serving in the U.S. Military. I usually remember to put out my flag. My father was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He’s pictured below, the one in the center, with two buddies in a restaurant in Oakland, California on February 8, 1944.
Rather than being onboard a battle ship, however, he was in the Seabees, a name easily derived from the acronym, CB, which stood for “construction battalion.” Their function was to build infrastructure throughout the South Sea islands of the Pacific in preparation for military operations. My first geography lessons comprised my father using a globe to point out the numerous islands he’d served on in the South Pacific. American Samoa. New Hebrides. Hawaii. Okinawa. As a child I never appreciated those stories as much as I do now.
He took these pictures while overseas which give some idea of the cultures that were impacted by the war with Japan. Islands populated by those embracing a primitive life style who probably had no comprehension of why their peaceful lives were suddenly disrupted by the U.S. military. The little boy with the pig, the children with the old woman holding a baby, all tell a story.
My father came home from the war alive and in one piece, which was more than thousands could say. I don’t know which island the cemetery below happens to be but it, too, tells a story. How anonymous all those white crosses seem, yet each represents a son, husband and/or father who never made it home.
My father’s military service was the highlight of his life. For years following the war he made it a point to attend Seabee reunions, wherever they might be. After he died, my mother received condolences from those still living. As a child I remember attending a reunion in Pittsburgh, not quite understanding who those people were or why they were so important to my father. Now I do.
Years later, on Veterans’ Day in 2004, I would visit the U.S. Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, one of many in Europe where American soldiers are buried. All we ever asked of the countries we defended was for enough land to bury our dead. The picture at the top of this post is of the inside of the Luxembourg memorial building, the outside of which you can see at the end. It was a sobering experience to see more white crosses representing so many lives lost. Row upon row upon row.
It was touching to see how much the Europeans appreciated our service. Every year on Veteran’s Day the government of Luxembourg honors General George S. Patton by placing flowers on his grave. There were several monuments of thanks erected to the U.S. Military as well, such as the one shown below, also in Luxembourg.
I’d never heard that much about the war in Europe since my father served in the South Pacific. I find it ridiculous looking back that we never studied WWII in school. Somehow the American history books for that time stopped before World War I. Certainly nothing about WWII, nothing about Korea, even as we were stepping into the Vietnam conflict. No wonder everyone thought history was boring. It had no relevance to our lives. No wonder Baby Boomers rebelled.
They say that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. How ironic that more recent wars, much less current events, are not explained and taught to those growing up in the aftermath. The most relevant conflicts are ignored rather than explaining how they developed. How stupid is that? No wonder we continue to fight. Or are we ashamed to admit what some wars were really all about?
I suppose there’s enough commonality in all conflicts that the details at a certain level don’t matter. All wars are about dominion, power and control. Some despot decides that his view of the world needs to be imposed on others. In some cases resources or land plays a part, another symptom of greed that demonstrates a total lack of regard or respect for others. People will obviously fight for what they believe in or if someone else wants to take something away that they value. No one wants to be forced to believe something with which they don’t agree. And I must admit that though I like to consider myself a pacifist, if someone suggested eliminating all those who want to take away my freedom, property or anything else, I’d be cheering them on. Like Bill Pullman said so eloquently in the movie Independence Day, “Nuke the bastards!” I believe we should live and let live, but ironically that only applies to those who share that belief. So I suppose I’m not that much different than anyone else.
One thing worth noting is that in astrology politics and religion fall within the same house along with all other belief systems. Other cultures and faraway places are also included in the 9th house as well as academia and various other things. Spirituality is covered by an entirely different house, which says a lot about so many so-called “religious” people. I always liked the thought that “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in the garage makes you a car.” But I digress.
Who really benefits from war? Do the spoils really go to the victors? Both sides lose precious lives and suffer death and destruction. On that Veterans’ Day in 2004 that I spent in Europe we also visited German cemeteries. Hitler’s obsession didn’t only kill those he murdered in concentration camps. Untold numbers of his own people also died. Soldiers fighting for what they were forced to believe in or die as well. Were they any less victims of a tyrant?
I have a neighbor who was born in Berlin, Germany in 1943, around the time they were being bombed heavily by the allies, a.k.a. the U.S. She grew up playing on piles of rubble, the remains of bombed out buildings. Her father fought in the war, was a prisoner in Russia for several years until he escaped and eventually made his way home. He’d been gone for seven years. I find it entirely incomprehensible what they must have gone through.
I suppose my generation’s war was Vietnam. There have been several since, mostly in the Middle East. While both World Wars focused on political ideologies, too many since have born shades of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning regarding the military-industrial complex. Wars are expensive which means they’re profitable to certain industries. Bullets, rifles, uniforms, airplanes, tanks and so forth cost money. Big money, which benefits those who have no regard for their fellow citizens, particularly the upcoming generation who are inducted into the military and sacrificed on the altar of greed. Fighting to defend one’s freedom is one thing; getting involved in a foreign war to make money for a chosen few is quite another.
The Europeans appreciated what the U.S. did for them while other conflicts in which we’ve become involved have not resulted in anything but hatred for Americans. Is it any wonder some countries see us as intrusive and violent? A self-appointed world police force? Mercenaries at the beckon-call of the elite? Our soldiers were willing to sacrifice their lives based on the pretense of fighting for others’ freedom. My personal opinion is that in most cases we should mind our own business. Defend our borders, but live and let live. Or die, as the case may be.
Yet we live in an increasingly hostile world where it’s unbelievable how many cultures indoctrinate their youth to be warriors at an early age. Need I remind you that’s what Hitler did, too? Many of us do the same thing, starting with G.I. Joe. Teaching the principle of defending your own freedom is one thing; taking it away from others is quite another. For some cultures, that’s what it’s all about. And you know exactly who I mean. No matter how much they have it’s never enough.
It’s too bad there’s no day in sight when we’ll live on a peaceful world other than that mentioned in post-apocalyptic scripture. In such a future time and place Veterans’ Day would honor those who fought only in the past. Until that day comes, there are veterans, past, present and future, all around you. Make it a point to thank as many as possible for their service today.