- By Bob Brewin
- Nov 06, 2006
Editor's note:This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 10. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.
If not for Wal-Mart
Saturday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day, or as they still poignantly call it in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, Remembrance Day, originally established in the United Kingdom in 1919 to honor service members who died in World War I.
In the United States, Remembrance Day was called Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The name changed to Veterans Day at the end of World War II.
Until sometime in the late ’50s it was still a solemn, civic holiday. Then Veterans Day morphed into a shopping holiday with little time or attention paid to the true reason for the day.
But we can start to take back Veterans Day from the gods of commerce. Pass up that sale on a 34-piece socket wrench set at a nearby big-box retailer, and instead do what people used to do on that day — remember and reflect, and at the 11th hour, observe a moment of traditional silence.
Buy a poppy
It might seem hokey, but buying one of those red poppies sold by the Veterans of Foreign Wars is a good start to taking back Veterans Day.
The artificial poppies commemorate the sea of poppies that sprang up on World War I battlefields seemingly overnight and commemorated by one of the most memorable war poems ever written, “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, a Canadian Army doctor.
The poem has such status in Canada that a portion of it is inscribed on the Canadian $10 bill. In case you don’t have a $10 Canadian bill in the house, here’s the final stanza:
“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though
In Flanders fields.”
Skip the movie; go to the memorial
“Flags of Our Fathers” is evidently this year’s “Saving Private Ryan,” but a visit to the Iwo Jima Memorial with the kids, along with a history lesson, will beat any time spent with a simulacrum of the battle in a dark theater. Go to any memorial or veterans cemetery to pay silent tribute this Saturday, and pass on to the kids a tale or two that honor the fallen, initiating an oral tradition with the next generation that will stick.
Such traditions are powerful. In early 1995 my pal Abigail Friedman was serving as Walter Mondale’s speechwriter while the former vice president was U.S. ambassador to Japan. Abigail called me for background information for a speech Mondale was to give on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
“What do you know about Iwo Jima?” she asked.
In a nanosecond, I spit out, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
She asked, “Where did that come from?”
I answered, “Everyone knows that.” Sadly, that’s not true today.
Abigail went to Iwo Jima with Mondale and then sent me a gift of priceless value to anyone privileged to wear the eagle, globe and anchor — a glass vial containing sand from Iwo Jima.
Abigail knows the value of remembrance.
This Veterans Day, as I have for more than a decade, I will pause at the 11th hour to remember two fine Marines who touched my life.
The first is Maj. Cornelius “Corky” Ram, my former company commander, who died in Vietnam in 1971. Corky was the kind of company commander who would bring a starving private first class home for dinner, and he deserves kudos for inspiring me to never give up despite the odds.
I’ll also remember Lewis Puller Jr., a fellow Marine and friend who helped me through some tough times in the early ’90s until his death in 1994. Always faithful, gentlemen.
Finally, it’s fitting to pay tribute to two men close to me who helped imbue the tradition: my father, Walter Brewin, who served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, and my father-in-law, William Suess, who served in the Navy in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters in The Big One. I hope you both are in the same formation for the big parade in the sky.
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