Once a year, the nation makes a show of recognizing those who served in the military.
Veterans Day, indeed, involves pomp and circumstance, parades and picnics. Bands play. Speakers speak.
But many veterans live with their experiences every day, whether it’s through membership in organizations such as The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American GI Forum, or because they need the psychological help offered at the Modesto Vet Center and the Veterans Affairs clinic. Their families live through it with them as supporters and sounding boards through good times and bad.
So while Nov. 11 is the national holiday – initially as Armistice Day in 1938, to mark the end of World War I’s fighting on that day in 1918, and expanded to Veterans Day in 1954 – there are those who recognize that gratitude and appreciation shouldn’t be limited to an annual single-day event.
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Rick Kindle of Sons in Retirement in Turlock recently spent months searching for Korean War veterans so they could receive the Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal, a token of appreciation for their efforts in that war. He found 83 Korean War veterans and 30 more Korean-era and Cold War veterans to honor at a ceremony at California State University, Stanislaus, on Oct. 28, with another scheduled for Nov. 19 at the SIR meeting at the Denair Community Hall.
Organizations such as Honor Flight several years ago began raising funds to fly World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., where they can visit the memorial built to honor them on the Capitol Mall. Two weeks ago, the Central Valley chapter departed from Castle Airport with 66 veterans aboard. Having been on an Honor Flight trip as a guardian in April, I can tell you it is a rewarding experience for the veterans and certainly for those who accompany them. Fewer and fewer of those surviving veterans will be able to handle the cross-country flights because of declining health, but that doesn’t mean the flights will cease as “the greatest generation” vanishes.
Ron Lopez of Modesto, board president of Honor Flight NorCal, said he wants to transition to Korean War veterans as the World War II generation passes. “And then the Vietnam (War vets),” he said.
The second Saturday of every month, the Commemorative Air Force hosts a $6-a-head breakfast in its hangar on the general aviation side of Modesto Airport. It displays Jeeps and small military aircraft inside the hangar, and opens its small military museum during the event and by appointment. Most months, Modesto’s Jim Sanders shows off an ambulance identical to the one he drove across Europe in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army, ultimately liberating survivors of the German concentration camp at Buchenwald in 1945.
In June, the only flying B-29 came to Modesto for a visit, tours and flights. Saturday, a B-25 roared in, as it has many other times.
Just down the way, Tom Hillier’s small air and war museum remains one of Modesto’s best-kept non-secrets, open by appointment and on the second Saturday of each month.
And in Fresno last month, five veterans who live in Turlock’s Covenant Village Retirement Community flew in the same kind of 1942 Stearman biplane some trained in during World War II. Among them was Chuck Walker, whom I wrote about several years ago.
His P-38 shot down over Hungary in 1944, Walker was captured and held for a time in a Budapest prison. While living at Samaritan Village in 2007, he met Allen Sughrue, a navigator in a B-17 shot down five days before Walker and held a few floors below in the same prison at the same time.
Walker, now 93, enjoyed perhaps one final open-cockpit swing through the wild blue yonder.
“It brought back memories of old times,” he told The Fresno Bee.
So Veterans Day might, indeed, come once a year with parades, processions and public thanks. Being a veteran, though, is a year-round thing.