Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day 2010

Here it is 2010 and that special day for honoring our nation's military veterans is upon us.  I remember that during my first five or six years of grade school we celebrated Armistice Day on November 11.  Usually, some simple flag ceremony, sometimes accompanied by a middle-aged gentleman or two from the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars, was conducted at 11 AM.  To help make the occasion special to a fourth-grader, there was a distribution of candies and a patriotic pin to wear on our collar or sticker to place on our lunch box. We were taught that this was a celebration of the peace in 1918 that ended a horrific World War and a time to honor those American servicemen and women who had served in that war.  Today, none of those middle-aged gentlemen are with us and the young school boy that was inspired by this tribute has himself left middle-age in the dust.

In 1954, Congress extended the recognition to all who had served in the military during time of war and renamed the occasion "Veteran's Day".  In practice, this day has come to be celebrated in honor of all veterans, whether they served during time of war or not.  In truth, one could hardly have served in the U.S. Military after December 7, 1941 and not have been in some state of war, either hot or cold.  Now, we are sadly but proudly paying our respects to the dwindling number of veterans who served during World War II.  Much has been written about their heroic crusade, and with just cause. 

 416th Bomb Group veterans at the 2010 Reunion
(left to right, seated: Carl Weinert, John Freese, Bob Kehres, 
Billy Brewer, Dan Eastman.  
Standing: Jack Sittarich, Wayne Downing, Ralph Conte, Roy Burns, 
Roland Dullnig, Bob Basnett.)

My personal involvement with the 416th Bomb Group, through the silent but forceful urging of William Edward Cramsie, has made me all too aware of the fact that we are mortal creatures.  With our passing from this existence, we become part of that great tapestry of human accomplishment and evolution.  It won't be long and Cold War veterans will be taking their final salute.

As I sit here today and reminisce, I wonder what Bill Cramsie was doing 70 years ago as a plebe at West Point.  November 11, 1940 fell on a Monday.  The day was declared by Public Law in 1938 to be a legal holiday.  Therefore, the cadets were likely on a relaxed schedule—something rather scarce for a plebe.  The weather was ominous as a storm of hurricane proportions swept the Great Lakes.  That afternoon, five vessels and 66 lives were lost in Lake Michigan alone during one of the worst  storms in recorded history.  In all, 154 deaths were blamed on the storm.  The Battle of Britain had ended, at least in official releases, and the British were carrying the battle to German and Italian cities.  It must have seemed fairly obvious that the United States would soon enter the war.  Little did the plebes of that year know that their program of studies would be reduced to three years and they soon would be personally engaged in that war.  

There has been great bi-partisan support for this veteran's tribute since its inauguration.  Honoring veterans is one of the few things that all Americans seem to agree on.  As Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg some 150 years ago, "It is only fitting and proper that we do this."  At many of the Branson, Missouri entertainment events throughout the year, there are tributes to veterans.  It is always impressive to see how many men and women proudly stand with their brethren to be recognized.  The contributions of the American armed forces to our way of life are rarely overlooked or taken for granted, and that's as it should be.