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Veteran's Day 2008

By LC Van Savage

November 11th, 2008, Veteran’s Day has passed. So many memories for me and for all of us who lived through WW II. And I ought to not use the expression “lived through” because that phrase sort of implies that I suffered some hardships back then, and I did not. I know our family like all families had to do our bit for “the war effort.” We ate from my father’s Victory Garden (huge carrots as I recall,) we squashed cans and saved everything metal including rolling into a huge ball the tin foil the insides of their Lucky Strike packs. Our gas was rationed, meat, sugar and butter too, so many things, even fat drippings in big cans stored at the back of our ice boxes, although I never really understood what unused bacon fat did for the war effort, or how we could get it to wherever it was supposed to get to. But we hardly suffered.

It was all quite exciting and wonderful as we neighbors banded together to do our bit while the horrors of the actual war went on so far away we really couldn’t relate, even though we saw the newsreels, listened to the great music, heard the conversations and saw the Gold Stars appearing in more and more windows, sometimes more than once.

My father, to his deep regret was too young for WW I, and too old for WW II and had a large family and a mother to care for, along with his having a bad heart, so even though he never got to shoot anyone, he did get to don a heavy white metal hat, pick up a heavy flashlight and skulk around our neighborhood demanding everyone’s lights be turned out in all homes or at least blocked out by thick black curtains. He faithfully scanned the dark skies over Staten Island hoping to espy an enemy airplane and he returned sadly every night, dejected and espy-less.

Uncle R. came home from that terrible war. His leg had been horribly damaged because of a crash he endured in a glider somewhere over Germany. I often sat in the hospital with him, my face inches from his yellow, dreadfully ruined foot held aloft in traction. Five years this man suffered as they tried to strengthen that bone in his leg and finally he began to walk again, tripped over a toy one morning one of his 3 kids had left on the floor and the leg had to be amputated immediately. His big heavy wooden artificial leg was horrifying to me, especially when he’d laugh and hammer thumb tacks into it after he’d had a few martinis.

No TV to pass the time, Uncle R. learned how to make jewelry during those hospital years, and to knit, and both occupations produced simply beautiful work. His wife wore that gorgeous, unique jewelry, on her ears, neck, fingers and clothing, and her sweaters were breathtaking, and intricately executed. Everyone wanted the things Uncle R. made. He wasn’t a particularly nice guy, in fact he was an awful, mean, nasty man even before that heinous thing happened to him and he remained thus even after all the badnesses of his injuries, but because of them and what he’d seen and had to do over there, he earned our respect and consideration anyway and we cared for and about him. Everyone was affected by that terrible time.

So many wars. WW II was going to be the last, but it wasn’t and let’s face it; wars will never end. They come with a terrifying regularity. Everyone alive has had some experience with wars, some in more terrible ways than others.

I met a man at Wal-Mart last summer. I hope he’s reading this. I was seated outside of the haircut place with my sister waiting for her to go in for her appointment. A gorgeous, tall, white-haired man asked me if the seat next to us was taken. I said, “Yes, it is. For you!” He sat and we chatted. He said he was waiting for an electric cart to be emptied. I stood and found one for him although from the looks of that old soldier he didn’t much need one. He had WW II Veteran information on his cap and we talked a bit about that war, and he told me where he’d been and some of what he’d seen. He told me he was ninety-something but I forget the something part. He told me his name but I haven’t asked his permission to use it here so I’ll just say that his initials are ---nah, I’d better not. He was so jolly and funny, so handsome and user friendly considering what his memories probably are that when I got home I looked up his address. I know where he lives and it’s in a town quite near to mine. I’m not a stalker but were I, he’d be a delight to stalk. I keep looking for him in Wal-Mart, but no, it’s just not to be. He told me he wore his hat recently into another big store, and a young person chatted with him about it and she said, “You know, I didn’t know they had veterinarians in World War II.”

I know I’ve written about this next war memory before but it has stuck with me so intensely, and I’ll never ever forget it. My father took my sister and me to New York City probably in 1945 or ‘46 to see the return of the soldiers and sailors. I think it was on Fifth Avenue and the street was lined with dark green bleachers. We stood up high on them and watched just thousands of military people march past us, returning warriors. Everyone wept. I’ll never forget feeling the cadence of their marching boots on the asphalt, hammering into my solar plexus, my teeth, head, and skull. It was glorious. They marched properly, no facial expressions although tears poured down many of their faces. A military band was blasting out something loud and lively nearby. Quite suddenly an older woman near me screamed and screamed again and went charging, clawing, falling, crashing down the bleachers to the street, knocking people down. She ran alongside of the marching soldiers frantically waving a white handkerchief. I remember every detail of her face and clothing and hair. She ran and ran, screaming. A short, dark young man against all military rules, leaned forward from the row in which he was marching, grinned hugely and screamed back, “Hiya Ma!!” Oh, I’ll never ever forget that. Her son was finally home.

Thank you Veterans, for my good life.

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