Veterans Day in the United States occurs on November 11 and was proclaimed as Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 to mark the anniversary of the end of World War I. Later, in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the law that established that day as Veterans Day to honor all those who have served in this country’s military. On this day, there are many events celebrating the holiday and saluting our country’s veterans. Parades, concerts, ceremonies with special speakers, dinners fill the day, all to recognize the women and men who are or were in the country’s armed forces.
My own father was a G.I. during World War II who enlisted shortly after Pearl Harbor, became a First Sergeant and shipped out to Europe where he made three separate landings, two in Italy and one in France. He was assigned to the 2nd Chemical Warfare Battalion attached to the Fifth Army. His unit spent more time on the front line–511 days–than any American unit, except for one other, in the European theater.
He was in the Battle of Monte Cassino, at the liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau and during a search in Munich discovered Hitler’s quarters in the Hofbrauhaus. His war experiences were not something he ever talked about until well into his 60s when my youngest brother asked him about the War in order to write a paper for his high school history class.
And while my Dad was fighting on the front, my future Mother-in-law, was in the field hospital at the rear of the very same 5th Army division as a lieutenant nurse, treating wounded and sick soldiers. My mother-in-law had recently finished her nurse’s training at Kansas State University when War broke out. Knowing that there would be a great need for medical personnel, she signed on to become an Army nurse.
A young woman who had seen little outside of the farm and state of Kansas where she had grown up, she soon found herself sailing on board the U.S.S. Harry Lee as part of the largest trans-Atlantic convoy ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It was the very same ship on which my Dad was headed to war.
Though their paths never crossed during those war years, they were in many of the same places at nearly the same time. It wasn’t until after my husband and I were married that they discovered that they both had served in the same division of the Army during the War. They shared stories and compared notes establishing a common bond through the years. The experiences that they both had lived through changed their lives forever.
I have photographs of them both from those memorable years. Snapshots taken while on leave or between battles on the field; portraits in their dress and combat uniforms made in the studios of photographers in the foreign cities where they passed through, on their way to their next military assignment. These pictures are priceless and provide my family with an insight into their young lives and a time that the world must never forget. I hope that you too have photos, if you had family members who served in this or other conflicts, because they are important visual records not only a life special to you but of history itself.
These young Americans left behind family, friends and all that was familiar to ship off to war and fight, to help those who fought and to risk never returning. It is them, and all others like them, who don the uniform of their country in both war and peace times whom we honor on this country’s Veterans Day.
We salute them.