Saturday, November 15, 2008

Veteran's Day revisited

What did you do to celebrate Veteran's Day? If you're like me -- not much. Most continued the work week uninterrupted -- I work a government job so I sat at home and got paid for it. I can only imagine what someone in the military felt. I've never been there. Maybe they felt a reverence for those brave brothers and sisters who died or sustained wounds for their country; may be they felt the heart breaking pain of rejection, their contributions unappreciated.

I'm often reminded that I have a Polyanna perspective of war. Or perhaps it is more a one-dimensional, read-it-in-a-book kind of feeling about it. I tick off the cost of the war with a counter on this website. That doesn't begin to count the cost.

Now and then something crosses my path that makes me sit up and stop taking for granted that people will continually be there to put themselves in harms way to preserve my freedom, my country. Today it was the realization that volunteers continue to devote their lives to the care and maintenance of strangers' graves. All of these years after the end of World War II, people maintain graves for soldiers -- American, English, Australian.... Men who died and were buried on foreign soil. One web site "In Honored Glory" drives that message home and provides a few stories behind 'he gave his life for his country.' The photo below shows the well kept Margraten Cemetery in the Netherlands.

A dear friend is compiling information in a book -- the stories behind the names that grace military installations around the world. Fort Hood. Ramstein Air Force Base. Camp Lejuene.... The men and one woman who performed beyond all expectations and are honored with their name linked to a military installation -- yet we have forgotten who they are and what they did. I hope she soon gets the book out in stores so we can read it and never forget.

Looking through the 85 stories on In Honored Glory, I met Carl Genthner. He was probably the first man shot at a picturesque Belgium town, Malmedy. Carl Genthner was a medic, an ambulance driver, one of the few people out there bent on saving lives, not taking them. Malmedy will aways be associated with Carl's death and those of more than a hundred American prisoners of war.

"By about 1400, 113 Americans had been assembled in the field by the Café. They included 90 members of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion (all except three from Battery B), 10 men from the five ambulances, the military policeman who had been on traffic duty at Five Points, the 86th Battalion engineer and 11 men who had been captured by KGr. Peiper before reaching Baugnez–eight from the 32nd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, two from the 200th Field Artillery Battalion and a sergeant from the 23rd Infantry Regiment." -- History Net

These men were herded into the center of a field and German soldiers began shooting them, one by one, like target practice. They were infected with the blood sport and took more and more pleasure in their shooting prowess. A convoy of German soldiers drove by during the massacre.

There were five who lived to tell the story.

It may be painful to read, yet there's something powerful and even hopeful in knowing that we are part of a country that includes such people who can rise to the occasion even unto the point of giving their lives. The men who were senselessly used as targets and those who gave their lives to save innocents or their fellow soldiers. Each war has too many of these stories. Each person who died had lived and left a footprint on this earth and their contributions to protecting freedom should mean more to us than a date on a calendar.

Another website, The Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes offers the opportunity to send Christmas cards to our soldiers. If anyone missed celebrating our heroes during Veteran's Day, here's a second chance to let them know, if not how much we appreciate them, at least let them know they are not forgotten.

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