Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veteran's Day

I come from a long line of people who picked up their weapons and fought for causes that they thought worthy.

An ancestor from Besancon, France, Francois Durand, came over and settled in the American colonies.  When the American Revolution broke out, he enlisted in the Continental Army and was tapped to serve as interpreter for the Marquis de Lafayette.  Personally, I suspect  Lafayette probably spoke better English than Francois.  Not sure, though...  Lafayette was reported to speak broken English when he returned to the United States early in the 19th Century.

Other ancestors fought in that conflict (and since my great-grandfather hailed from Hesse Cassel and came from a military family, I suspect we may have had a few Hessian mercenaries in the background.)

The American Civil war came along, and my great-great Grandfather, Theodore Wilder, a student at Oberlin College, signed up at the very beginning along with a company of his college friends to fight against slavery.  Yes, they actually said that: they wanted to see the end of slavery.  Great-great Grandpa ultimately died for that cause, though his wounds did not kill him until 1872.  He was badly wounded in the battle of Cedar Mountain in western Virginia ('Slaughter Mountain', they called it).  He was saved by a farmer and his fiancĂ©e, as the story goes.

(Serving years later as a docent in the Civil War Library and Museum, I encountered the memoir he wrote of that time.  He only used his initials; imagine my surprise when I learned that the writer with the dry, humorous tone was an ancestor.)

November 11 is called 'Veteran's Day' in the United States now.  I suppose I could go on about the various other veterans in my family and the wars they served in, but I want to mention a veteran who is dear to my heart.  My father, who died a year ago in August.

I knew him for a wonderful father before he died, and I'm glad I did.  At every turn I find reasons to thank God that he was my father, that I had his kindly, stern and laughing presence in my life.

On this Memorial day, however, I think it appropriate to pass on something he said to me.

Dad joined the U.S. Navy during World War II.  He entered the top secret Radar program, and served as a radar officer during the war and afterward.  He attended law school and served in the JAG (Judge Advocate General) corps.  I did not know until after he died that he had helped to set up the system they have now.

At any rate, Dad was a veteran and a serviceman, retiring as the Judge Advocate General for a U.S. military district.  He then went into the practice of law as a civilian.  Not surprisingly, he had a few things to say about some of the crooks he encountered.  He also had a low tolerance for idiots.

A few years back Tom Brokaw wrote the book The Greatest Generation.  I had long thought that the people who lived through World War II, whatever their country, certainly had earned that title.  There was a time, for example, when the only thing that stood between Hitler and world domination were the stout hearts and determination of the people of the UK.

I said so to Dad - about his generation.

His words were typical:

I don't know about that, Diana.
We did what we had to do when we faced what we were facing.
You, too, would do the same if you were in that situation.

Generous words.  Dad was wise, and I think he was probably right.  It is good, though, that we have not yet had to face that sort of test, though we have faced some others.

So, this Veteran's day, I thank all who put their lives, their income, their health on the line in our behalf.  Those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and those who gave their whole lives and retired.

Thank you all.

8 comments:

  1. I love your father's words and am truly inspired by how much you know about your ancestors.

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    1. Someone once said that if you invited into your house your mother, your mother's mother, HER mother - and so forth, down 120 generations (which is about 3,000 years), you would not be able to communicate with your earliest grandmother of that group. BUT (there is a point to this) you could say something to your mother, and she to hers, down the line, and you would be able to communicate. I've often wondered who would be in that room with me... (And would they think me as cute as your children?)

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  2. Hi Diana .. lovely post and what fun to find out about your ancestor's memoir ... incredible piece of luck and interest. Your father was very involved .. as too earlier members of your family ... my parents too ... but coming from shipbuilding, farming and engineering families - I'm not sure about the generations pre WW1.

    We do do what we need to do when that time is there .. and I'm sure we' d have done the same - though quietly I'm glad I didn't need to.

    However we honour all who serve, served, and kept us free - lovely post - thank you - Hilary

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    1. And thank YOU, Hilary. I find myself thinking of that last line of Milton's SONNET ON MY BLINDNESS, where he finishes by saying that though there are thousands to do God's bidding over land and see, 'they also serve who only stand and wait'. Perhaps, for my generation, the waiting was the service...

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  3. What a lovely post, Diana. You're very fortunate to know so much about your family's history. I trust that some of their stories will find their way into the pages of some of your books.

    You mentioned Brokaw's book. Did you happen to read it? There was a second one, too, more about the lives of the people back home during the war, and I thought both of them were terrific.

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    1. I loved Brokaw's book, and was glad he had written it. I'd had some inkling when I read Dad's 'Memoirs', which I promised to transcribe and publish for the family as he was in the hospital in his last days. I was not aware that he had deleted the electronic version and I would have to transcribe the whole thing. Still, a promise is a promise...

      Actually, Susan, you met two of them. One was one of the foragers who ran across Sheppard in the Civil War story. The other was the regimental quartermaster who came to the town when he heard that some of his men were being detained,. The first was my mother's great-grandfather (spent some time at Andersonville and then escaped) and the other was my father's great-great uncle. Funny who you run across...

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  4. What an interesting post. I really had to consider what your father said regarding how "we" too, would do the same given that situation. Some would I'm sure, but so much innocence has been lost. I loved that your father thought as well of us as he did. I work with that generation and love their stoic pragmatism. We owe them a lot. Thanks for sharing and thanks for your kind comment over at the nut-tree...
    ~Jill

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  5. Wow, what a lineage. That's very cool. And you're right - what your dad said is very generous, and I very much hope that it's true.

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