Two members of my immediate family rank among veterans of military service, although they didn’t participate directly in a war. My late father was in the Navy briefly; he received
a medical an honorable discharge* because of a bad back. My brother was an MP back in the ’70s and also served with the National Guard.
*Since he was always on sick leave, I thought it was a medical discharge. Mom corrected me.
In this blog post, my mother describes the World War II service of her uncles, including one who was shot down, escaped a prisoner-of-war camp, and became an FBI agent; and my grandfather’s brother, Frank Applegate, who fought under Patton in Europe.
My father, Frank Breen, Sr., always behaved as if he was a veteran of more than intermittent periods on a hospital ship. He was a proud member of the American Legion and toward the end of his life wore a baseball cap embroidered with his ship’s name (the regular ship, not the hospital ship). The government even gave him a veteran’s headstone, which would have pleased him enormously.
Because of Dad’s enthusiasm, we usually went to the big Veteran’s Day parade in downtown Cincinnati when I was a kid. It seemed always to be at night and always cold. It wasn’t the festive celebration of a 4th of July parade or even the Memorial Day parade. I’m not sure there was even music. I do remember the big boxcar, maybe two, driven by either the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion. I dreaded those boxcars. I had a bad fear of loud noises, and someone in those boxcars randomly shot off a rifle blank into a can. As far as I could tell, it was just to make the spectators jump. I stuck my fingers in my ears the minute I heard a muffled boom farther up the parade route. In between explosions, the boxcar played a fire engine siren. It was a lively spectacle.
What I never considered at that young age was that those old men in their pin-covered caps or their full uniforms often were soldiers who had gone through hell on the battlefield. The parade was a display of pride, certainly, but I tended to think of the veterans as being more like Dad than military men who had sacrificed and suffered in combat situations. Fortunate youth who have never known war take things more for granted, I guess, but I wish I’d understood better.
Now I do understand, and I salute all veterans today, no matter what the conflict, no matter what their service. You all deserve our gratitude and pride.
NUDGE: Write about the Veteran’s Day observations of your youth. How did you mark the day? Were there parades? Did you visit graves or help lay wreaths at monuments? Or was it simply a day off school? What about any veterans in your family. Did they ever share their experiences with you? Did you really understand what Veteran’s Day was about?