Next Sunday is Veterans Day. This will be the 100th anniversary of what was originally called Armistice Day, the end of World War I. It came at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, “the war to end all wars.”
World War I took war to a totally different level. For example, at the battle of the Somme, the British Army suffered 60,000 casualties in a SINGLE DAY. Being in the military is a hard way to make a living.
My father was in a World War II critical occupation: as an engineer he drove the trains that carried troops and war materials across the country. One of my uncles ended the war as a POW in a German stalag. Another uncle was wounded and disabled. He piloted a landing craft that ferried Marines ashore to enemy held islands in the Pacific. A former father-in-law was a navigator that flew bombing missions in a B-24 over Germany.
The author and historian Stephen Ambrose did as much as anyone to tell the story of World War II by compiling and editing thousands of interviews and statements from the men and women who fought and served during the war. His books are both documentary and compilations of personal stories portraying the human cost of the war. I recommend his books to you.
Dr. Ambrose was a technical advisor working with Steven Spielberg to put together the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” The movie is said to be the most realistic portrayal of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, winning five Academy Awards and was the highest grossing movie of 1998.
For those who have not seen the movie, it is about a squad of men led by an Army Ranger Captain named John H. Miller, played by Tom Hanks. The squad’s mission is to find a soldier who parachuted behind the Normandy coast on D Day and escort him to safety so he can return home as a “sole survivor.” Private Ryan’s other three brothers, who were also serving in the military, were killed in action. The storyline follows an actual tragedy where four brothers named Sullivan were killed when the ship that they were all serving on was sunk.
Without ruining the movie for anyone yet to see it, Captain Miller’s last words to Private Ryan were “EARN THIS,” meaning that the sacrifice of those who had made his rescue possible could only be repaid by living a worthwhile life. The last scene in the movie is an elderly Ryan asking his spouse and family if he had, indeed, lived that worthwhile life.
On the anniversary of the end of World War I, our thoughts are with the veterans of all past conflicts and those of the present day. Some live in our community, some are in our families and others lie beneath white crosses or six pointed stars. What do we say to those who have sacrificed so much so that we might have the opportunity to live that worthwhile life?
Put your flags out. When you see a Vet wearing their campaign cap, walk up to them and say “Thank you” which will NOT seem like enough but at least will acknowledge their service.
We hope that those we love, and loved, can see that we are trying to “earn this” life. We dedicate our thoughts today to them.