Emily Klose/Voices: Nov. 11 is a day worth shedding tears for veterans

Emily Klose/Voices: Nov. 11 is a day worth shedding tears for veterans

By EMILY KLOSE

My father is not a demonstrative man. In my lifetime, I remember seeing him cry only a handful of times. Once was when his father, my 72-year-old grandfather, died overnight during a brief hospital stay. Another time was after one of our neighbor boys was killed in action in Vietnam.

Two weeks ago, during a visit to my parents' home, I saw my father cry again. The topic was Armistice Day and how it was observed by schoolchildren in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. My father attended St. Alexander Catholic School in the Chicago suburb of Villa Park. "On Armistice Day, those nuns lined us up," he said. "Then we all turned and faced the East for two minutes in absolute silence."

"Why east?" I asked. My 94-year-old father, who was standing in the dining room at the time, turned toward me. His eyes filling with tears, he said, "To remember the slaughter that took place on the battlefields in Europe. And to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the dead."

My mother, who is six years younger than my father, was born and raised in Plainfield, N.J., where she attended a public grammar school.

On Armistice Day, she recalls engaging in the same ritual at her school. In the United States, Armistice Day commemorated the end of World War I, the war that was supposed to be the war to end all wars.

The peace agreement, or armistice, for the Great War was signed by Germany and the Allied powers at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The first Armistice Day in the United States was held on Nov. 11, 1919.

I knew that two of my great-uncles, who were my paternal grandfather's older brothers, had served in the Army during World War I. From talking to relatives and doing my own research, I knew that both of them had been on the battlefields in France and had survived.

My mother's father, a Danish immigrant, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917 at the age of 27 and served in the 138th Aero Squadron, an air service unit that fought on the Western Front. When my mother was a child, my grandfather, who died in 1938 at the age of 48, told her that he flew in planes over battlefields where soldiers were being gassed.

In 1942, with World War II well underway, my father, a college student, was drafted into the Army. He served in the Pacific Theater, going from New Guinea to the Philippines and finally to Japan after the liberation. If the United States had not dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, forcing the surrender of Japan, he would have been in the second wave of soldiers ordered to invade Japan.

My husband enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school. He was in Vietnam for the last 11 months of his four years of active service and saw combat. He was discharged in 1968, at the height of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and remained in the reserves for the next two years, anticipating a callback that never came.

In 1954, a year after the Korean War ended, our government changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day, making it a commemorative holiday to honor all those who served their country. Veterans of all branches of the military are recognized and remembered on this day, regardless of where and when they served.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are sent where their superiors choose to send them, and they fight wars that are largely dictated by politicians with little or no military experience. The liberty that we as Americans continue to enjoy comes at a horrific price, with a cost to our nation in blood and treasure that can never be calculated.

On Saturday, Nov. 11, it is worth shedding tears for all the veterans, living and dead, who have worn the uniform of our country.

Emily Klose lives in Champaign.

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