Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's Veteran's Day

It seems inappropriate to precede Veteran's Day with a word like "Happy," like it's your birthday or something, so I thought it would be best just to point out the day is today. Veteran's Day. Armistice Day. Remembrance Day. The end of World War I.

I was sent on assignment yesterday for a Small Town Newspaper article, and I found myself in a Catholic school cafeteria full of veterans all eat spaghetti served by students in uniform. (Sometimes I type a sentence and read it back to myself and think I could never make this stuff up. That last sentence is one of them.) The school hosts veterans for lunch every year, and then they have a program to honor them.

My job was to talk to as many as I could and then sit through a presentation delivered by a historian who portrays Gen. George S. Patton, so I went looking for WWII vets who might have been under Patton's command. I found a few, and they were so gracious and willing to talk to me. My father was in North Africa under Patton's command and hated the man, but then he hated anyone in authority, so I wanted to talk to these vets, all about the age my father would be if he were living, to see if they had a different perspective. They did, actually.

One man who had fought all over Europe and in the desert said you could say what you want about the general, but he knew what he was doing. He got things done. And another man, one who landed in Normandy, said Patton shook the hand of every young man he was sending into battle and wished him luck. No one really liked the general, but that wasn't an issue. You don't need to like the commander who runs your war. You need to follow his orders and respect his rank.

I met a couple of Vietnam veterans and Korean War veterans, too, and one thing I've discovered after several occasions of interviewing these old soldiers—they are the most gentlemanly men I have ever spoken to. I did encounter a flirt yesterday, though. He was a charmer who was in the navy in Korea. He told me about when he was deployed as a side boy on a flagship in the Mediterranean. Side boys are those sailors who stand at attention on deck and salute as dignitaries come aboard for important meetings. He saluted for Churchill and Mountbatten, and then he fell in love with a queen.

He was standing at attention and saluting as Queen Frederika of Greece was being escorted along the top deck. It's the duty of the side boy to stand at attention without flinching, looking straight ahead with complete concentration, but when the lovely queen approached my veteran, she looked him right in the eye and sweetly said, "Hello." And he said that's all it took for him to lose his concentration and fall in love.

As he told the story, the other men at the table were all laughing at him, and then the old guy next to him elbowed him and said, "be careful, you're going to fall in love again." The vet said he was nearly there already, and because the man was such a charmer, I giggled as if to say "oh, go on," told him he was trouble and took his picture. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure they were suggesting he was going to fall in love with Queen Frederika of Greece again, not with me the reporter interrupting his lunch. Oh well.

I was able to chat with Patton before his presentation, and when I introduced myself to him, he sternly said, "Do you think you can handle this, because most journalists are liberal." I assured him I had been raised by a man who served under Patton, and I could take anything he dished out. We talked about other characters he has portrayed and about the history of our highway system—did you know our interstates were designed to accommodate missile transporters? Under Eisenhower's presidency, the lane widths and heights of our bridges spanning interstates were designed so we could deploy missiles quickly should the Russians strike. And then the gymnasium was filled with kids and teachers, and I sat on the bleachers with all of them for the show.

So, it's Veteran's Day, and hopefully, it will be a happy day for all those men and women who have made a sacrifice for our country. Thank you.


dive said...

What great tales Veterans have to tell. Having someone like you to record them and spread them around the world is a wonderful thing, Robyn.

Madame DeFarge said...

It's good to hear what any veteran has to say and like dive, I'm glad that you're there to hear them.

Alifan said...

Oh Robyn again you tell a lovely tale, thank you.
It is always a special week remembering all the loved ones who did not come back,and because John was in the RAFA for so many years we attended some wonderful extra tearful, but refreshing to know that so many people remember.