Friday, November 14, 2014

Remembering gratefully

    This past Tuesday was Veteran's Day in the US.  As part of our observance at DU, I sponsored a book discussion on Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony, about the difficulties a half-breed Native-American WWII veteran faced upon returning home.  It was a fascinating discussion, involving former GSSW professor Jim Moran (a Vietnam vet and Native-American) and Zachary Moon (a Navy Chaplain working on his PhD, studying how we reincorporate returning vets).*  Then, later in the afternoon, we had a Veteran's Day ceremony, including an ROTC Honor Guard, the playing of Taps, and with comments from one of our US Army Fellows (in residence at the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies), our Chancellor, Rebecca Chopp, and me.  What follows is the text of my comments.
    This morning I changed my Facebook profile picture to that of a young man, 24-years-old, standing in a snow storm somewhere in Belgium.  While the photo itself was probably taken in December 1944, it seemed appropriate to use that photo of my dad on this snowy Veterans’ Day in Colorado, seventy years later.  And while many folks in Colorado will complain about the cold this week — and justifiably so — historians of World War II, as well as that dwindling number of veterans who were there, will talk about the bitter cold of the Ardennes forest during one of the decisive battles of that war, the Battle of the Bulge.
    I don’t know if that young man, when he joined the Army in 1942, envisioned that winter in Belgium.  Like many, he wasn’t sure whether he’d be sent to the European or Pacific theater.  What I do know is that he wanted to be a pilot in the Army Air Corps, but he was sent to Europe before that dream was realized.  He did get to fly — but as a spotter for a Field Artillery Battalion.  
    I doubt that many others suspected that they’d be on beaches or jungles on previously-unknown islands in the Pacific.  Few suspected the horrors of those battles, specifically of that on Okinawa which my father-in-law experienced.
    I say all of this because I doubt that many of those men and women we honor with the title “Veteran” know what they’re getting into.  Even those who enlist during “peace-time” cannot be sure that they will not be thrust into battle, as political winds blow ill.  Yet, for whatever reasons, they DO choose to serve their country.  They take the oath.  They leave loved ones.  Those who return, do so changed — as did my dad and my father-in-law.
    On this Veteran’s Day — this “Remembrance Day” — we remember and honor all who’ve served, as well as those who have served by supporting them, their families and friends.  We are grateful for that commitment.

Chaplain Gary

* For an overview of the book, check the Spark Notes site, and for a recording of the discussion, go to the bottom of this page, and click on "Ceremony"

1 comment:

  1. Happy Thanksgiving, Chaplain Gary, and thank you for this wonderful post. My dad was also a Veteran of WWII and served in the South Pacific where he earned a Purple Heart Medal. He passed away in 2012 at age 91. I am thankful for the Greatest Generation members and those who are currently serving our country. I appreciate your sharing your dad's story with us. Peace and gratitude, Marianne