November 11th is Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor America’s veterans both living and dead. Why November 11th? Because on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Armistice ending World War I began. Initially titled Armistice Day, it was later changed to Veterans Day in 1954.
I have often thought that this special day is appropriate for a month known for giving thanks. We give thanks to God for our many blessings on Thanksgiving Day. So it seems fitting to give thanks to our veterans for their service to our country on the 11th of November.
While I am not a veteran, I know many men and women who are. My dad was a veteran of two wars. A few years ago, I came across one of his letters that can only be described as “precious.”
My dad served in the Navy during WWII. Before the Normandy invasion in June of 1944, he helped clear the mines out of the English Channel. Later he was called back to service for the Korean War and stationed at the Oakland, California Naval base. He brought my mom out to Oakland in the Fall of 1950. She was expecting a baby (that would be me!) the following February. The letter I hold so tenderly was a handwritten note from my dad to my mom dated January 1, 1951. At that time, he was stuck on a ship in San Francisco Bay and expressed his concern about taking her away from her family in Winder, Georgia, and now she was stuck in Oakland seven months pregnant, alone and waiting on him to get leave.
Well, as things turned out, he was able to be with my mom when I decided to arrive at the Oakland Naval Hospital on February 22.
Today, November 11, 2018, some 67 years later, I am keenly aware that I have lived a life of freedom and opportunity thanks to an untold number of people who have served in our armed forces. Whether during times of war or just a restless peace, their sacrifice served as freedom’s shield against the forces of darkness.
I thought of my great, great, great, great grandfather John McElhannon who fought with George Washington at the Battle of Brooklyn.
I thought of my dad and his three brothers who served in WWII.
I thought of the time in 1999 when my wife and I visited the Vietnam War Memorial and there found etched in The Wall the name of Corporal David Elrod. David had played 3rd base while I played shortstop on the 1962 Longdale Little League Yankees.
I thought of the first soldier from my last hometown of Conyers, Georgia, killed in the Iraq War. He was a teenager from Salem High School who was not even an American citizen but a Hispanic youth who loved America. Tears flow each time I ponder his service and sacrifice.
I thought of my brother and two of my sons-in-law. One served in the Army, one in the Navy and the other still serves in the Air Force Reserve.
For me, that simple letter from my dad to my mom is a precious reminder that those who serve their country deserve our thanks. Yes, there are many ways to honor our veterans. For me, for now, I honor them by never forgetting them, and never, ever forgetting that freedom is not free.
Thank you veterans. We owe you more than we can ever repay.
God Bless America and those who serve in our military past, present, and future.