Thoughts On Veterans Day genre: Happy Remembrances

Omaha Beach

When I think about Veterans Day, the first thought that enters my head is context…and by that I mean the timeframe and the events within that timeframe that have shaped my own particular perceptions. Since I’m fast approaching fifty, I wondered how different my perspective would be from someone who was nearly fifty at the time I was born. As I considered the possibilities, the contrast seemed amazing.

Think about it. I was born in 1958 which would have meant my imagined predecessor would have been born in 1908…about the time my grandparents were born…all of them in Italy. I have vivid memories of my grandmother relating her story of physically fighting with her father to keep him from taking the money that she had saved at the age of seventeen to pay her way to America. Nothing meant more to her than getting to the United States…she won that battle and she soon completed her dream and came to America.

At seventeen, I was still in high school. I came of age during the anti-war movement and during the Watergate scandal. Before that, my first vivid memory, as a five year old child, was the day JFK was assassinated and I knew something monumental had occurred because I witnessed my mom crying when my dad and I returned from Safeway…having heard the news on the radio. As I see that kitchen in my head, there is a fog of darkness that mutes all the colors. Nonetheless, I learned what love of country meant that fateful day.

I became obsessed with politics because I sensed this country was about great leadership and great people. I followed Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign and I remember the night of the California primary. I stayed up as late as my mom and dad would let me…but the results weren’t final so I went to bed not knowing if he had won. When I awoke the next morning, I raced downstairs and turned on the television hoping to see that RFK had won…only to find out that he too had been assassinated.

When I was in my early twenties, I used to tell friends that what America needed was a ticker-tape parade. I’m not sure what made me say as much but in retrospect I think those predecessors that had lived through the depression and two world wars had shaped my life and taught me, by example, the importance of patriotism. Though my own experiences with American history seemed in conflict by comparison, I sensed the goodness and greatness that went before and in my own naïve way, I sought to connect the two and pass it forward.

Today, I’m still waiting for that ticker-tape parade. In between then and now, America has fought a few conflicts and many of those predecessors that influenced my life and told me countless stories of America’s greatness have passed away. I think about my Uncle Benny who landed on Omaha Beach and, though he’s gone now, I can hear him telling the story of how the first person he encountered that day was a friend from our hometown and how glad he was to share a foxhole with a familiar face. I think about my dad, who to this day remembers his brother’s serial numbers because his mom would need to write them on letters to his brothers overseas during World War II.

My nearly fifty years here in America are not the same as the fifty years lived by those before me. While I’ve witnessed war and conflict, it pales in comparison to my understanding of what went before…but it doesn’t matter. Those who served then and those who serve now remain connected. They serve a country they love and they do so with honor and they deserve our thanks and our admiration. They will tell their stories to our children and in fifty years those children will once again recount fond memories of great people who had the courage to risk their lives so that this uniquely American story can continue to be told.

Daniel DiRito | November 11, 2006 | 8:31 AM
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