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The bond among those who served

Nov 12, 2017 By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

"We have shared the incommunicable experience of war, we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youth our hearts were touched with fire," Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Holmes, one of the most best-known justices ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court was a warrior in his youth, and it profoundly affected the remainder of his life.Students of Holmes note the influence his experiences at the Wilderness, the Peninsula Campaign and at Chancellorsville had on his life as a jurist.

At a time when the entire U.S. population was just 31 million, Holmes was but one of more than 2 million young men who answered the call, whether blue or gray, when the nation beckoned during America's greatest tragedy, the Civil War.

As a college senior he enlisted in the Massachusetts Militia to fight for the Union.He was wounded three times in battle, one coming at the bloodiest day in our history when 22,000 young men fell at Antietam in September 1862.

Holmes's words are fitting to consider this Veterans Day weekend.

World War I ended officially at 11:11p.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. In an era where we can't even determine who is friend or foe in combat it seems a little sanctimonious. Why would such an esoteric time as 11:11 11/11/18 ever be the moment the world's first industrial war came to end? It was still an era when valor, sentimentality and respect for your enemy remained the hallmark of combat.

For good or bad, we're well beyond the flamboyant view of battle that inflamed the minds of so many young men a century ago.

Veterans Day has an interesting history in America. Originally called Armistice Day in honor of the veterans of the "War to End All Wars," it was first celebrated in 1919 but didn't become a national holiday until 1938.

President Eisenhower officially changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954. It was a day that used to end football seasons across America with a final game between two close rivals. Riverton and Lander met on November 11 or 12 (if the 11th was a Sunday) from 1924 to 1937. They moved the game to the 18th in 1938 after a blizzard closed the roads.

The rivalry resumed until 1947 when a rudimentary, unofficial state playoff began, and Lander beat Newcastle 46-13 on Armistice Day in what was called the semifinals.

The final Armistice Day game locally came with a 21-0 win by the Riverton Wolverines in 1950.

No one knows how many of those young men who wore the uniform for the Wolverines and Tigers in those frigid November games later wore the green, brown, blue and white of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, but you can be assured that most did.

As I attended the annual Quilts of Valor presentation at St. Margaret's gym in Riverton on Tuesday evening, I thought of my dad on the USS Iowa in Korea, my uncles Gene and Chris fighting the Japanese in the Pacific in World War II, and my uncle Ralph battling the Chinese in 1952 in the frozen wasteland of war torn Korea.

Those battlefields were a long way from the leather helmets they wore just a few years before as kids playing football.

There were 100 men and women honored with quilts at the presentation, and each one had a story. I knew of the experiences of some who had been my students and athletes years before, but most were new to me.

William Merriman, a sailor in the U.S. Naval Reserve, was the lone World War II veteran in attendance, a testament to the passing of time.

When I was a kid, every older guy in the neighborhood had served in World War II or Korea, it seemed. It was a common bond that does not exist in our nation anymore.

That's an important reason for us to commemorate Veterans Day.

There is something special when an American Indian veteran is honored for his or her service.Perhaps my knowledge of the atrocities that America perpetrated on the indigenous people brings this sentiment, but whatever it is, these people chose to defend a nation that until recently had no value for their identity, culture or their very existence.

Our nation has changed in the people who now defend it.World War II and the draft made a homogenized military of rich, poor, city, country, black, white, brown and red all serving together from every corner of America.You don't find that anymore.A large portion of America's military now hails from the South and the rural West, with fewer and fewer coming from urban areas -- fewer still from families of affluence.

As a percentage of total population, American Indians account for a higher number of soldiers, Marines and airmen than any other ethnic group in America, a tribute to a warrior heritage that dates back to the days when the nation they now serve was their enemy.

Honoring those who served seems trite to far too many people. Empty, rote phrases such as "thank you for your service" delivered with all the enthusiasm of a daily good morning to someone you barely know in the hallway at work just don't suffice.

The final words of a Memorial Day speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1884 summed it up: "Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death, of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring."

Thank you.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired public school educator.

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