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Carrol Vertrees: Thank veterans and their loved ones

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: December 19, 2012 11:43AM



It was the best of Thanksgivings and the worst of Thanksgivings.

It was 1943. There was a war on.

It was a family thing that included the girl of my dreams. Hugs of happiness. Laughter. A thankful time.

I had been lifted to the zenith of joy and then, so quickly, dropped like a falling stone into an abyss of sadness.

A parting was imminent, and like families all across this nation the laughter and tears commingled. For some, this was the last family Thanksgiving, for many of us there would be another, sometime when this awful thing was over.

This special girl told me that she wept on the way home from Union Station in Indianapolis. That’s where they left me to join dozens of other confused young fellows. It is, I have been told, OK if a soldier weeps, but not unusual if the weeping is inside, next to the heart, unseen.

As confused and partly numb as I was that night, I could see clearly that I was not alone in my thoughts of home and family. There was not much talking as the train pulled out. A togetherness by default, there on the train taking us to somewhere.

I thought about this much later — the pain of parting, the loneliness, the uncertainty touching not only those who leave to serve their country, but those they leave behind. There are countless heroes back home in every war. They wait and wonder.

Milton wrote: “ … They also serve who only stand and wait.” Surely that is a truth for the ages.

I went to a lonely place called Camp Shenango, somewhere in Pennsylvania. Soon we would take a free ride in the world’s biggest ship to what folks in an earlier war called “over there.”

I was one of many soldiers with no discernible military skills, but at that camp I carried out my first assignment commendably: I stayed up all night keeping the home fires burning in our barracks. I proudly shoveled a lot of coal, and I thought that if the enemy people could see me now they would beg me not to come.

I also carried a profound memory from basic training where a sergeant bellowed: “Be sure to wear your leghorns tomorrow.” I assumed that he meant “leggings” but I was too timid to ask. I was right. It made me feel, well, so military.

It is proper that Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day have been placed in calendar proximity, because they remind us all that we should figuratively hold hands across the years and be lifted.

Honoring veterans is proper, mandatory, if we maintain any sense of fairness and respect. Those who served and did not come back deserve our thanks, and their families deserve our thanks. We should weep for them.

Some veterans come home with grievous wounds that are visible and others return with scars that we can’t see. Some do not come home. It is always that way and there are always wars. That is a great wound on our national soul.

Thanksgiving, though, can be a balm, a healing, a time to be glad and proud, even as the tears, seen and unseen, grip us.

I am linked to that 1943 Thanksgiving by an unbreakable cord. It is not about me, but about the ties that bind and a stern reminder that those who stay behind also serve. Remembering that is an admonition to be thankful.

And grateful.



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