One of the things that I have always appreciated about living in Haskell has been the opportunity – really, the great blessing – of being able to meet and visit with veterans of so many of our nation’s wars over the years. What an amazing archive of experience!
Over the years, I have known men from Haskell, Rule, Rochester, and the entire county, who have shared with me stories of their days in the service. I have been blessed to know guys who were on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day – June 6, 1944. I have known guys who flew 25+ combat missions over occupied Europe in a B-17, and other guys who were with the 101st Airborne, trapped at Bastogne and surrounded by the enemy during the Battle of the Bulge. I have also known veterans who were part of Patton’s forces that broke through the German lines and turned back that counter-offensive.
I have known guys from the Pacific Theater as well – men who were survivors of the Bataan Death March early in the war, and other guys who were with the Marines who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima, including one who was with the troops who raised the FIRST flag on Mt. Suribachi. That flag was not large enough to be seen from the Navy ships off the coast, so the Marines raised another larger flag, and it is the picture of that second flag-raising that became so famous.
I knew a guy who was on the island of Saipan during the war. We held one end of a runway, but the Japanese still had the other end of it. He told me the story of how a Marine lieutenant was looking for a way to secure the entire runway, so our planes could use it. Since any approach the far end would mean being under withering enemy fire, my friend was recruited to drive a bulldozer and raise the blade. Then using that dozer blade as a shield and under continuous assault, my friend drove down to the far end of runway and gave cover to the Marines who took the other end of the runway and secured the base.
Where do we get such men?
There was a veteran from here who was in the first wave of troops to hit Utah Beach on D-Day. He told me that the Germans were extremely precise with their mortar fire, and able to drop explosive rounds exactly where they want to on the beach, resulting in terrible American casualties. But, he said, he and the men with him noticed that the Germans were “walking” their mortar rounds back and forth across the beach in a very methodical fashion, so that, by watching where the shells landed and timing their runs across at the right moments, they were able to get inland and take out the enemy positions.
And in so doing, the Allies were able to put 150,000 men ashore in the first 24 hours on the five beaches of D-Day, on their way to destroy Fascism and rescue a continent.
It’s worth remembering that Veterans Day was originally known as “Armistice Day.” It was the day that World War I ended – at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. That war is personal to me, because my grandfather was a “dough-boy” who fought in France and received a wound in his left shoulder from a German shell that landed behind him. He carried that scar with him for the rest of his life. Grandpa liked to work in the yard with his shirt off, and I can remember as a child, walking behind him and seeing that scar on his shoulder. He would come over to our house for supper and tell my brothers and me stories from the war. Not to glorify the violence or exalt in the killing, but to celebrate the courage of those who were there.
And I remember at Grandpa’s funeral – he died on my birthday in 1980, at the age of 81 – the Purple Heart medal that he received because of that wound was pinned to his jacket lapel. The family had agreed that the medal should go to his oldest son, my uncle, who was a career Air Force man. Standing at the casket, my uncle was too overcome with emotion to unpin the decoration, so I removed it from Grandpa’s jacket and gave it to him. I felt very honored to handle, even in that small way, such a treasured piece of our family history.
America has been very blessed over the years that so many have answered the call – men and women who have been willing to “pay any price, bear any burden.” Haskell County is fortunate to be home to so many who have served when and where they were needed. Let us extend to all of them our gratitude for their sacrifice. So to all veterans – thank you for your service. And God bless America.