posted on November 21, 2011 12:12
It was last Friday in Manhattan at the 2011 Veterans Day parade. Our group of Vietnam veterans "marched" north, up Fifth Avenue. Starting from 25th Street around 1300 (1 pm) it took us about an hour to arrive at the dispersal point on 53rd. Just like life back in the service: a lot of "hurry up and wait" all over again.
Going past the reviewing stand at the New York Public Library, I noticed the Chief of Naval Operations and former Mayor Guiliani, a celebrity or two, but not the Grand Marshal, retired Gen. Dave Petraeus.
Unlike contingents from active and reserve units, such as cadets from the Military Academy and a mounted detachment of the New Hampshire Governor's Horse Guards, our raggedy group had no formation as such, no cover and dress, 40-inches-back-to chest. It looked more like a unit on patrol than a smart marching formation. So what?
The sides of the street were filled with encouraging, enthusiastic spectators, cheering us on. Many had signs, printed and home-made. Many shouted out "Thank You" to us and got thank-yous back. I remembering looking at one greeter, mouthing "You're welcome," and seeing her smile back. People of all ethnicities and ages, all united in welcoming the troops. It was a love fest, pure and simple.
I had arrived at Madison Square Park around 10:30 am, as dignitaries in the park -- civilian and military -- were making their speeches. A Navy band played the national anthem, and per recent protocol changes, I raised my hand to my cammo cap in a hand salute as the band played, and when the order came to "Parade the Colors" and to "Retire the Colors."
Scattered through the park were Junior ROTC detachments from New York City public schools, which had the day off. Almost every last one of them, Hispanics mostly, wore their uniforms with pride and appeared to be of good cheer. I spoke briefly to a young lady in the 9th grade, a member of a Navy JROTC unit and later, while on the waiting line of one of the 3 portable latrines provided, with a 12th grader in an Army JROTC uniform.
"Where are you headed next year? College?"
"No sir. Marines."
An hour or so later, as we plodded our way up Fifth Avenue, I think it was somewhere in the East 30s that a mom and two kids stood curbside, and one of our gaggle, appropriate to our total disregard of military bearing, dashed to the side and got something from one of the kids. So did I, handing her a small black MIA flag in return.
After all was over, after I sat down in a seat on the Number 1 subway train to head home, I took out what the child had handed to me.
Folded over, it had on the cover an image of a soldier, right arm raised in the hand salute, outlined with a black ball-point pen. A green marker was used to color in the helmet, orange to color in the shirt, Prussian blue for the trousers, black for the boots.
Inside, the message was "We salute you!! on this Veterans Day!"
It was signed by Ashleigh from Brooklyn.
What follows is my answer, a thank-you latter, to young Ashleigh.
“Ashleigh, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the card that you gave me on Veterans Day. I really don't think that any card that I have ever received has meant as much.
“My friends and I are humbled by your greeting, and wish you in return all the good will that you showed to us.
“Although you are far too young to fully understand right now the importance of last Friday's parade, you can certainly appreciate the enthusiastic support that I and other marchers received from the members of the public who lined the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue all the way from 25th Street to 52nd.
“It really helps the spirits of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who go off to defend our freedom -- including those who are at this moment engaged in battle in faraway countries -- to know who much you appreciate what we have done in the past, are doing today, and will have to do in the future.
“You are far too young now to fully understand the background of this day, a mere two weeks before our celebration of Thanksgiving. On both occasions, we have reason to give thanks: on the one day to thank God for allowing us this part of the world to live in freedom, and on the other day to thank the men and women who have been called upon to keep our country free.
“When I was your age, what is now Veterans Day was not called Veterans Day. It was then known as Armistice Day, remembering the day that the First World War came to an end. You may be in the Eighth Grade on the 100th Anniversary of that Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. At that time you will learn in your Social Studies class how our leaders at the time expected that World War One would be the "war to end all wars" and the armistice (the laying down of arms or weapons) would be last major war in world history.
"You will learn that our leaders then were mistaken. More wars followed, and the name of the occasion was changed to celebrate the people who were called upon to ensure that we would keep our freedom, therefore the holiday was given its name-change.
“So you will also learn that, far from bringing eternal peace to humanity, World War One led to the rise of new groups in the world. Unlike the countries fighting in that war to increase the power of their nations, the new groups aimed at taking over countries and using them to destroy all that our country and those like us stand for.
“You will learn about the later wars that these new groups caused: World War Two, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the two wars against Iraq and our current struggle in Afghanistan.
“Your school probably had a ceremony commemorating the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, in which our enemies attacked the World Trade Center towers not very far from where you live. Many of your neighborhood probably remember standing outside and watching the buildings come down that morning. Many of them probably lost friends or relatives that day. That even led to the start of a new war, and many of the veterans of that conflict paraded before you on Veterans Day 2011.
“I strongly suspect that you understand the reason why people who are not now required by law to join the armed forces in wartime, volunteer to risk the safety of home life and go far from their homes. It’s basically because of the love we have for kids like you.
“Just as your parents lock the door to your home to keep you safe, and the police patrol your neighborhood to keep away those who would bring you harm, so the so the members of our country's armed forces are fighting today to prevent people who would like to do even more harm to your neighbors and mine from accomplishing what they desire. This is exactly why those who marched on Friday appreciate the tokens of appreciation that you were giving out that day.
“We not only thank you, but all of us will continue to do our best to make it possible for you and your family, your neighbors and your friends, to live in safety and, as you grow in years, in knowledge, and in goodness, that you will continue enjoying the freedoms which Americans have enjoyed for many years.
“Again, I sincerely give you thanks,”
United States Navy Retired