Village Voices November 5, 2023
In the USA, Veterans Day annually falls on November 11. This day is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which ended World War I hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 an armistice between Germany and the Allied nations went into effect. On November 11, 1919, Armistice Day was commemorated for the first time. In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed the day should be "filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory." There were parades, public meetings, and a brief suspension of business activities at 11 a.m. on 11/11/1919, (Timeanddate.com).
My family is full of veterans. My dad served for two years in the Army back in the early 50’s. He was not called into active duty nor did he have to go overseas. Both mom and dad considered that a miracle as they were newly married with two little boys at the time. Some of my uncles on my mom’s side served in World War II and some in the Korean War. One of my uncles landed on the shores of Normandy on the infamous night of June 6, 1944. He was a medic in what was known as codename OVERLORD. That night, Operation OVERLORD delivered five naval assault divisions to the beaches of Normandy, France.
I have a picture of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as he stood before the young men of the 101st Airborne Division giving a speech to them the night before they embarked on Normandy. The note on the transcription says he knew that 80% of those airmen would not be returning home after the invasion. I found the speech on Google. It reads in part as follows:
“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty- loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. But … Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned ! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory! I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
I can’t imagine the stress and sorrow of being involved in war at any level. A friend of mine lost a brother in WWII. A high school classmate and a family friend, both lost sons in the Iraq War. Until he passed away three years ago, a veteran in our church was very adamant about the American flag being flown properly at our church (which it is - in honor of him and all the veterans in our community). Another friend had a fellow comrade die in his arms on the battlefield in Vietnam. We are forever grateful to those who answered the call of duty and went to war to defend freedom around the world.
My uncle who landed on Normandy, never talked about his experience except for one night when I was spending the night as a little boy at his house. My aunt had tucked me in for the night when he came in to say bedtime prayers with me. After we said our prayers, we started talking. And somehow the conversation got to his years in the military. He told me how he was a medic with the Red Cross and how they weren’t supposed to shoot at medics - but they did anyway. He was on a flat-bottomed Higgins Boat the night of June 6, 1944. One end of the boat opened into the water and the troops were to jump in the water and wade ashore. But the boat was too far out in the choppy sea, and when they jumped in, the water was over their heads. Many of his fellow soldiers drowned in the cold water. He said he almost drowned, but he somehow managed to bob up and down with all his gear on, and though he took in what seemed like gallons of water he was able to reach the shore and survive. That was the only time he ever talked to me about that event in his life. And that was all he said.
I also had several uncles who served in the Korean War. Only one of them ever talked about it and what he told me chilled me to the bone. He told me he was crawling face down in the swampy jungle in combat advancing to their target. The enemy would also be in the swamp hiding. When an American came upon them incognito, the enemy would slit their throats in the dark - I’m not comfortable printing the rest of his description of what happened after that. Let’s just say it’s no wonder people come back from war never to be the same again. I can see why our military would call out to “Almighty God.”
Freedom isn’t free. Thank you to all you veterans from every walk of life. We don’t take you for granted.
(Kevin Cernek is Lead Pastor of Martintown Community Church in Martintown, Wisconsin)