Today we remember the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and the armistice agreement which essentially ended World War I. The horrors of WWI were so brutal and bloody that humanity could not imagine ever going to war again. Many hoped that it would indeed live up to the title of “The War to End All Wars.” Yet this would not be. As humanity churned out more war machine in the decades to come, we began to see a need for a day that would honor all veterans. We took the 11th day of the 11th month in hopes that it would draw our consciousness back to the hope our ancestors held for a world without conflict, a world without war.
On this day, our nation thanks veterans with our words and parades and free stuff. The kindness of these gestures is not lost on those of us who have served. Yet, I am hearing more and more from veterans of our most recent wars (oral historians talk to every veteran, every chance they get) that they cringe at hearing the words, “Thanks for your service.” For those who haven’t served this may seem like they are ungrateful. After all, what can those who have never served do to show their gratitude? However, it is not a lack of graciousness they are feeling, it is the opposite, a deeply abiding humility, that causes them to feel the way they do. Many realize that their sacrifices, no matter how great, can never compare to the men who were spit on when they returned home, or the ones who are left with scars that cannot be seen, or even more… the ones who never returned home at all.
Many may wonder who these nameless, faceless, heroes are and what we as a nation can do to make it right for them. Many of the vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan would simply say, “Live your life and enjoy the gift of freedom you’ve been given.” I however believe that it never hurts to learn our history and honor the stories, when we can, of the nameless and faceless. Remember them and their families in your prayers. Pause and think of them on this day and every other day throughout the year. Refuse to let their memory die.
Now you might be asking, “How can I remember someone I don’t even know?” An easy way to start is by talking to people. Hear their stories. The next time you see a veteran wearing an “I served in ___” ball-cap, stop what you’re doing and say hello. Strike up a conversation. Ask them what they did, who they are, what they love. Genuinely care for them with your interest. I realize this might not happen today so in the meanwhile, I want to give you some stories to ponder. Below are 5 veterans whom you may not already know. Part of the nameless and faceless to many. Think on them with gratitude and as my young veteran friends would tell you, “honor them by living the best life you can live.” My eternal gratitude is extended to them, and many more, but in no particular order….
The Montford Point Marines
During WWII FDR, in a somewhat feeble attempt, worked towards integration of the races in the U.S. military. This was by no means an attempt to end desegregation however as African American men and women served in separate facilities and units. This unit of Marines was not allowed to take basic training at the regular training facilities and were instead, segregated to train in Montford Point S.C. This narrow strip of swamp land housed the Marines who would go on to heroically serve during the major battles of WWII. The only other Marines relegated to Montford Point were the canine units, the Doberman and handlers who would save countless lives on Iwo Jima, and the various bloody battlefields of the Aleutians. Even though the handlers and veterinarians were white, they were considered just as “dirty” as the “Negroes” and therefore sent to that same dismal piece of dirt.
Sgt. Alvin C. York
Sgt. York grew up in a poor farming community in the hills of Tennessee. He was devoutly faithful and believe it a sin to take the life of any man. When drafted during WWI, Alvin applied for conscientious-objector status but was denied. His commanders had seen his expert skills as a marksman and had convinced him that his skills were a gift from God that must be utilized for His glory. In May of 1918, York’s unit, the 82nd Infantry Division, arrived on the western front. York quickly made a name for himself and became a corporal. In October of that year, York was leading a platoon in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive when they came under heavy fire. York had asked God to help him so that he might defeat the Germans without taking many casualties. He prayed for God’s guidance as they came under fire and with help of his small unit (17 men), they captured 90 German soldiers and took them as prisoners. While transporting these prisoners, the men managed to capture another 42 Germans. It is believed that York killed 20 enemy combatants that day but he was most proud of the lives he took by surrender. Sgt. York was awarded the Medal of Honor when he returned home and was offered celebrity status to endorse several business ventures. The humble servant of Christ turned down those offers for fame and fortune opting instead for a quiet life with his wife Gracie on their Tennessee farm. Alvin York spent the rest of his life, even throughout The Great Depression, feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.
This tiny Korean pony became the most decorated War Horse in Marine Corps history by serving diligently alongside her beloved Marines. During the Battle of Outpost Vegas, Reckless, under fire and injured, made over 100 trips to deliver wounded and munitions to Marines scattered across the hill. She bravely went alone and returned, time and time again, to her beloved handler Lt. Pederson. She retired back to America at the end of the Korean War and gave the Marines three lovely foals, “Fearless”, “Dauntless”, and “Chesty”, to carry on her legacy. Her favorite pastime in her retirement was drinking beer with her Marines.
Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)
Imagine my surprise when I learned recently that my husband’s grandmother was one these roughly 1000 ladies! These ladies flew aircraft during WWII from manufacturer to forward operating bases. With the desperate need for serviceable aircraft in theater, America’s women came together to rapidly deliver them. Often these aircraft were experimental and hadn’t received many flying hours. It was an incredibly perilous undertaking for these women, without a lot of training, to step into the cockpit and fly an untested aircraft. Officially their war efforts were not recognized until 1977 when they were granted veteran status.
The Men and Dogs of 8125th Sentry Dog Detachment Korea
These brave warriors are the subjects of my upcoming book, The Dog Don’t Miss: Silent Sentries of the Korean War. Between 80 and 100 men served with this unit in Korea. Serving alongside them, roughly 60 dogs stood watch in the darkest hours of the war. The men and the world had been told that the dogs would return to Camp Carson Colorado for retirement at the end of their service but this was never truly the Army’s intent. Forced to say good-bye to the dogs they loved, the men returned to a hardened and uncaring world. Today they grieve their losses largely alone. Only the brothers that still remain can understand the shared grief and loss of this incredible unit.