Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Over There

I've been thinking here all day -did you smell the smoke of something burning? If so, you know then that I was thinking really, really hard about what I wanted to write about today.

Reading so many blogs, each with their own tribute to this historic day -on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour -yes, Veteran's Day -or Armistice Day as it was still called when I was a kid and first learned about the importance of this day in the calendar year, I read "Flanders Field" many times over, had the opportunity to read even a few other poems dedicated to this day, even saw some videos too.

And I wasn't quite sure how I would go about writing my own post about this day -still not positive how it will come out now, in words, on my screen, but here goes. Brace yourself though -especially those of you who know me, know my habits, style of writing too -cause this is liable to be really convoluted, unless things come together for me as I write.

As I read these other posts today, I wondered how many people actually give any thought on this date as to what this holiday means. How many people do stop and think about family or friends who have served in the military -just served a normal "tour" for openers and remember to regard them too as vets? How many of us ever stop to thank those people for what they have done -whether they were stateside during their entire time in the military or served overseas or if they served in combat?

I know I am lax in saying "thank you" for a job well done. I could start with my own son and thank him for the four years he served -in Germany, in Hungary as part of the support effort for the troops in Bosnia and then back in the states, for his time at Fort Lewis, Washington. But I think on one level I was so relieved that he had gone and joined the Army and was getting a paycheck, room and board too, an opportunity to see a bit of the world as well as funds to go to school when he was discharged, that I really never gave that much thought to actually thanking the poor kid for what he was doing during those years -keeping a strong military front that was keeping us -me, you, all of us back here -safe! Sure I worried about him while he was gone but not as much as I do a lot of the time now and he just lives not quite a mile away from my house! He likes to point it out to me that I didn't need him to check in with me daily when he was living and working down in the south-eastern part of the state -roughly 160-170 miles from here so why do I worry myself all the time now wondering where he is, what he's doing, who he's with -all those things that he thinks should have flown out the windows of my mind oh, about 15 years ago this fall now when he enlisted. But he has yet to learn that worry is what a parent is supposed to do and probably -especially I guess with mothers -what we maybe do best too.

But aside from the worry factors that yes, do still exist in me where he is concerned, today I'm just going to say "Thank you, son! Just for doing what you did, serving your country because I do think it's important to remember you served with pride and perseverance -away from home, from family, from friends and yes, scary as it was to us when you sent home some pictures of you with a big old rifle, I was proud of you at that time and I still am.

I was thinking too about other veterans I knew, vets I know today -beside my son. My Dad's oldest brother -my Uncle George Hill -served in the Army during WWI but I don't know if he was shipped out, served on the battlefront or not. I really don't know much at all about this particular uncle as the only time I suppose he ever saw me, I was too small to realize he was even there, in my "space" as it were. I'm not sure now if my dad's other older brother, Uncle Alex Hill, served in the military or not but if he did, it would have been in WWI too -as he would have been over the age limit during WW2 to have been called up for service then. (I'm not sure but I think that may be why my Dad didn't serve in the Army -he was too young for WW1 but may have been too old by the time the drafts went into effect during WW2 -or perhaps he had a job where he was considered to be needed more at home.)

I know on my Mom's side of my family one of her cousins served in the South Pacific -I think he was stationed on Borneo. Two of Mom's cousins also rose from the ranks to that of a Colonel in the Army -one of them even made the Army his career. And another of my Mom's cousins served in France during WW2 where he was killed in the last days of the war. Another week or two and it was all over but he wasn't that fortunate. I found in old newspapers about a year ago that his body wasn't returned to the states until 1948 -four years after his death -and that's when the family had the funeral and burial.

Through reading some of the old newspapers that I have been gleaning for my research project on our village and the township, I learned too that the uncle of my two closest friends here was Missing in Action in France during World War II. A representative of the Army had come to the family homestead and presented his father a medal that the son, my friends uncle, had been awarded for his service. I later learned from his older niece here that he was on a bombing mission and the plane was shot down -I think he was a bombadier. Anyway, he was very injured from the crash but managed to crawl into some brush and hide from the Germans and was eventually rescued by people with the French underground. He hid in a home with a family till he healed enough that they could connect him up with others in the underground and then he escaped -by walking over the Pyrennes (sp) Mountains between France and Spain and from there, was shipped back to England and then home. When he actually made it back here to this village, his father knew nothing of what had happened to him, still thought he was missing, possibly even dead and the uncle came home, walking down the road to their house, whistling as he walked. The father was out in the yard, raking and heard someone whistling and when he looked up to the road and saw it was his youngest child -the one who no one knew what had happened to him -standing there, the father fainted on the spot!

There were many others from this little village who served in WWII -among them a very dear friend of mine, of my kids too -who passed away five years ago this coming January. He was not related to us at all but my kids and I always called him "Uncle Joe Benny" and I think he had served in the 82nd Airborne Division in Europe if I'm not mistaken. The memory fades at times but at various times when he and I would chat, he had mentioned his time in the military and the pride he had in being a veteran.

During the Korean War, at least two more of my Mom's cousins served -one in Korea, another in Germany. After Korea, during peace time, my oldest first cousin on my Mom's side was in the Army -serving in Germany. His youngest brother enlisted in the Air Force in 1964 but lucky for him, never had to go to Viet Nam.

My ex-husband and two of his brothers all served in the Armed Forces during the Viet Nam years and as a matter of fact, all three of them were stationed in Viet Nam during the same time period too. The ex was in the Air Force, his next brother in the Army and his older brother was in the Navy. According to my brother-in-law -the Army vet -this technically should have been illegal or some such because of the stipulations in the military due to the now famous Pvt. Ryan -that multiple family members could not serve in the same theatre simultaneously -or at least that is how I interpreted what my brother-in-law told me.

There were several young men around my age range who served in Viet Nam -one was "Uncle Joe Benny's" nephew, Dennis -who was a very good friend of mine. Years later, when he was diagnosed in 1987 with cancer of the jawbone, many believed it may have originated from his exposure to Agent Orange in 'Nam. Others will tell you it came from his snuff-chewing and no one really knows for sure there. Before he went into the Army, had had the attitude that he wasn't going to enlist because, his theory was "Why should I enlist and give Uncle Sam four years when, if I let him come and pick me up, I can be in and out in two years?" Sounds good doesn't it? In theory, I suppose it was a decent enough game plan but then, when he was drafted, what did he do? Well, he almost automatically re-upped himself for a third year of service just so he could be in the 102nd Airborne Division! And he wondered then why I questioned his sanity too!

During Viet Nam though a guy a couple years younger than me was injured, sent home and endured years of rehabilitation, a wheel chair, then crutches, a cane and now, in about the last 10-15 years finally is able to walk again -very slowly, yes; with slight assitance from a cane too but he is at least now up, around, about. But for many years, people who lived near him said he did turn quite bitter over his injuries.

The thing that really hit me I think the hardest about Viet Nam was when one young man from town here was killed. He was four years my junior, had been our newspaper boy for several years and was, overall, one of the nicest kids you'd ever hope to meet. Here's a piece I found about him as posted on the Virtual Wall -a memorial to the Viet Nam Vets who never made it back home. He was really still just a teenager, fighting, doing his job as a medic.

And finally, here's a picture of three young men, stationed in Afghanistan today.

This photo, taken by David Wolf, shows on the far right Mason Bennett -a young man from home, a member of our church and who, as long as he remains in the military will be remembered in our church prayers each and every Sunday for his service to his country there.

There's a song too that comes to my mind and though it was by George M. Cohan back in 1917 -and was a favorite piece of music during WWI, I think it conveys a message today -just as it did then -that all of us should remember about our Veterans, their service, at home and abroad, in conflict or peace time -of thanks they deserve for having served "Over There."

Over There

Johnnie, get your gun,
Get your gun, get your gun,
Take it on the run,
On the run, on the run.
Hear them calling, you and me,
Every son of liberty.
Hurry right away,
No delay, go today,
Make your daddy glad
To have had such a lad.
Tell your sweetheart not to pine,
To be proud her boy's in line.
(chorus sung twice)

Johnnie, get your gun,
Get your gun, get your gun,
Johnnie show the Hun
Who's a son of a gun.
Hoist the flag and let her fly,
Yankee Doodle do or die.
Pack your little kit,
Show your grit, do your bit.
Yankee to the ranks,
From the towns and the tanks.
Make your mother proud of you,
And the old Red, White and Blue.
(chorus sung twice)

Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there -
That the Yanks are coming,
The Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming
So prepare, say a pray'r,
Send the word, send the word to beware.
We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over
Over there.

That and we should never, ever forget what these and so many, many others did -and some are still doing -so we can live our lives here, safe and in peace at least at home. Now, if only there were a way so that all across the world would never need troops to be "Over There" -wouldn't that be the ultimate tribute to be given that their service definitely served a purpose.


Mary said...


This is a beautiful Veteran's Day tribute. All of the men and women who served and who are serving are heroes. Without them the world would be a much different place.

Thank you for this inspirational tribute.


the mother of this lot said...

Thanks for that Jeni - I'll be singing 'Over There' for the rest of the day now!!

fermicat said...

Happy Veteran's Day to all who served, and Remembrance to all who did not come back.

Maggie May said...

You did them proud jeni, you really did.

Anonymous said...

And I went away 'aware'...honestly didnt know! thx.

Trisha said...

the was me Trish not Anonymous, forgot to sign bef hitting enter

mlh said...

A wonderful tribute for all service people!

RazorFamilyFarms.com said...

What a lovely post! You are so kind to write this for our Veterans. When Josh get home from Ft. Benning, I'm going to show it to him.


Debo Blue said...

Just beautiful Jeni. Just beautiful.

Julia Smith said...

I followed your train of thought and enjoyed the trip. I love your stories about the guy who made it back and his father fainted, and the link to your former paper boy.

When I was little, my family lived in Michigan (I'm in Canada now.) The man down the street was on the 'USS Arizona' when Pearl Harbour erupted. He was sleeping in his bunk when the bombs hit. He had to swim to the surface from the sinking ship, and he had to avoid burning oil slicks when he came up for air as he made it to shore. His name was Jim Green.

I always felt the aura of his amazing survival when he would chat with my dad, as if he was a normal guy from the neighborhood. Which he was. But an incredibly brave normal guy, whom I'm glad to have known even as a little-girl neighbor.

Sandi McBride said...

What a wonderful post. It was sitting reading all agog over the story of hour friends uncle...his dad probably thought as ghost was coming up the road! Don't blame him for fainting. And my Mom used to sing Over there....and Coming in on a wing and a prayer...this brought back so many memories for me...I lost a dear friend in VietNam...I still think of him.

masgblog said...

Your post turned out just fine. And yes, I do remember family members who served in the WWs.....my Dad, uncles, etc.