Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Veterans Then and Now

W.W. II pilot and dear friend, Emerson Shields
Isaac B. Werner was a teenager during the Civil War and was raised in a Pennsylvania community in which attitudes toward the war were strong and mixed.  In a book written by Isaac's former teacher, the secret organization of draft resisters is documented so closely that although it purports to be fiction, local people could clearly identify which characters in the book were patterned after actual citizens.  There were members of the Werner family who served, but neither Isaac nor his twin brother served, although many teenagers were in uniform during the Civil War.  

Because Union soldiers often took advantage of the law crediting each year of service for the Union toward the years required to obtain title to their homestead claims, many of Isaac's homesteader neighbors were former Union soldiers, among whom were close friends.  In general, however, Isaac was critical of these veterans, particularly because they tended to support the party of Lincoln, which was seen at that time as more sympathetic to Wall Street and the wealthy than to farmers and other laborers. 

Veterans honored at Macksville High School
Recently, my husband and I attended the ceremonies recognizing the service of veterans in our community.  It was the first time we had attended such occasions, and this year we went to St. John, Macksville, and Stafford.  It was quite moving for my husband, who had never been specifically recognized for his military service in that way.

What was interesting was that by chance a few days earlier, we had discussed what his 4 1/2 years of service had meant to our personal lives.  Although he did serve a short tour of duty overseas, he never faced combat, so that sacrifice that others made was not part of our experience.

Macksville students in program with Veterans
What we agreed was that his time in the military was a positive experience for both of us.  The opportunity to serve his country, knowing that it was an obligation of all young men of that time, strengthened his love of country, as it did mine.  There is nothing like living elsewhere and seeing prejudices and practices with which you disagree to make you take a closer look at your own.  There is also nothing like living elsewhere to experience historical cites, entertainments, foods, and all kinds of things you might not have otherwise encountered.  And, there was no place like the military to get to know people from all parts of our nation, people of all ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds.  It was a growing experience that we would not trade.  My husband learned leadership skills that he used in his civilian career, and I taught English in two large urban schools much different from our own school backgrounds.  The draft was, from our view, an opportunity for young Americans to mature and learn discipline in service of this great country and take from their experience many positive things.

MHS student chorus

Setting a table for a missing veteran
The first Memorial Day after we had 'rescued' the old farmhouse, we invited our families to a dinner at the farm, a family tradition when I was growing up.  We sat in a circle before dinner and we invited every guest to mention a family member who had served our country so we could drink a toast to all of those who served.  Every person could name a family member who had served--themselves, a husband, a sibling, a child, a parent, as well as some of our shared ancestors.  Today, many families cannot name a close relative who has served his or her country.  That seems, to me, to be a loss for those generations and for all of us.  I do not encourage sending our young people off to war, but service to country does not have to involve carrying a weapon.

W.W. II and modern Bombers
Emerson Shields spoke at Stafford, sharing his training as a young man plucked from a college campus into training as a pilot in what was then called the Army Air Force.  He was only 20 years old when he was promoted to lead the planes in his squadron into battle.

MHS band and veterans
The youngest veteran at Stafford was recognized for his service of two tours in Afghanistan with a red, white, and blue quilt.  The third grade class made pinwheel poppies to hand to each veteran present, and veterans were asked to come forward to sign a large quilt which year after year veterans in attendance at their Veterans' Day program are asked to sign.

Cutting cake with military saber

Another tradition in Stafford is to ask the youngest and the oldest veterans present to use a traditional military saber to cut the cake.  Two veterans present were 92 years old, and when asked to give their birth months to determine who was older, both were born just days apart in September.  The crowd voiced their desire to have both men join the youngest veteran in the cake-cutting ceremony!

Thank you to everyone who planned and participated in the Veterans Programs we attended, and thank you to all our veterans who have served and are serving our country.  May this Thanksgiving Day include a remembrance of all of you.

(Remember, pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

No comments: