I think many Americans have lost sight that Veterans Day is not about retail sales and an extra day off; 11-11 is about honoring the brave men and women of our military who have stepped in to protect us, our way of life and our country.
With 6,623 American dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 50,000 wounded, recognizing our veterans isn't just some history book concept. It's as real today as it has been for every war.
Did you know that we have nearly 29,000 veterans in Stanislaus County? I've had the honor of meeting several local veterans in my time as a writer, and they have both awed and inspired me. These people transcend themselves, more concerned about doing what was right than about their personal wants.
Such as World War II vet Jim Sanders, who was among the earliest to the German concentration camps as an ambulance driver, and beheld first-hand the horrendous atrocities humans can inflict on each other.
Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) Adeline Ellison and Doris Wanty, who aided the World War II effort by ferrying and testing military planes and breaking barriers doing what no women had done before. Korean vet Hal Kluis, who endured the "police action" of Korea and developed a deep empathy for working with people to become an inspiring business leader.
My dad shares stories about his World War II paratrooper training, about how "sticks," or rows of 17 paratroopers, would line up on each side in the narrow C-47, waiting to jump. Part of training required that their parachute was properly hooked to a cable by a strap that would pull their parachute free as each man jumped. If connected with the strap under the arm instead of outside, it could tear off a limb. His voice quiets as he mentions one who "didn't put it on right."
Or he tells about when the men were lined up for numerous inoculations in both arms. As they advanced through the lines, murmurs of "watch the hook" would be passed along, causing some new servicemen to faint. It was a joke, my dad says, adding that right after the injections, they were sent out to load trucks for several hours, the intent being to force the inoculations swiftly into their bodies.
One of the challenges that face Americans is that for many, war has become an abstract concept, or worse yet, a video game. The last war on U.S. soil occurred nearly 150 years ago the Civil War. We read about war, we see the flag-draped caskets, we hear about local residents who die in service. But in our information- inundated lives, the tragedy and horror of war is two- dimensional, less important than the extra day off and the deep discount sale from retailer XYZ.
I grew up in Europe, and war was incredibly real. In the 1960s, we drove through streets in Germany where bombed-out, fire-scarred buildings still squatted. We visited ossuaries, where bones of unidentified war victims were gathered in honor, skulls staring back at us through the glass. My dad took us to the World War I trenches in Ypres, Belgium, where barbed wire and shot-up trees crouched in the morning mists, and where you could still smell the blood of the hundreds of thousands that died there. During a hike in the coastal sand dunes of Belgium, my brother toppled into an old machine-gunner's barbed-wire nest, permanently scarring his legs. I learned early that war was no game or textbook history lesson.
This Sunday, look around at all you have, in no small part due to our veterans. Whatever your faith, stop and say a prayer for our military personnel, for their safety and swift return home. Thank those you encounter for their willingness to serve. Take time to invite your grandfather and other family members who have served to share their tales, such that the concept of war becomes "real" and three-dimensional. In doing so, you will not only honor the intention of Veterans Day, but will be reminded that in the end, war is about personal sacrifice and heroism not just a sales circular or a day off.
Newcorn is an author and freelance writer living in Modesto.