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Bonnie Brown: Honoring the Memories of Veterans from Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

My dad, Fred Pollard, used to say he was a World War I baby and a World War II veteran.  He was born in December 1918.  He was proud to have served his country.   He didn’t like to talk about the war even though my brother was really interested in learning about the war and his part in it. 

U.S. Navy photo/Patrick Gordon.

We knew that Dad was involved in the Allied invasion of North Africa on Nov. 8, 1942 and also in the Normandy Invasion on D-Day which began on June 6, 1944. He received a Purple Heart for his acts of bravery during this war which claimed 416,800, based on statistics provided on the National WWII Museum.  My dad always noted Dec. 7 (Pearl Harbor Day) and June 6, 1944 (D-Day) each year and seemed to be very reflective during observances on Veterans Day. 

My husband’s uncle, George Lester, also was a World War II veteran.  He too was reluctant to discuss the war.  I remember teasing him about how he would stifle a sneeze and I told him he should just sneeze naturally.  He chuckled and said it was something he learned to do and seemed pretty important when sneezing in a fox hole.  Uncle George received numerous citations and decorations including the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon with 3 Bronze Stars and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with 2 Bronze Stars.  During WWII, it was customary to display a gold star in the window of the family’s home to indicate a family member’s service.  Uncle George’s mother had 10 gold stars to display with her blended family of sons and stepsons.  Can you imagine dealing with having 10 family members in harm’s way in a war on foreign soil!

It was Nov. 11, 1918 when a truce was reached signaling the end of World War I.  The peace agreement was signed by several countries on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month.  It became known as Armistice Day. 

On Nov. 11, 1919, the first celebration of Armistice Day, veterans marched in parades and were hailed as hometown heroes.  In a statement from the White House acknowledging this day, President Woodrow Wilson expressed what he felt the day meant to Americans saying, in part “A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations.”  If only that peace had held. 

World War I was called “the war to end all wars.”   Congress voted to make Armistice Day a federal holiday in 1938.   Unfortunately World War II began in 1939.  Who could have imagined that war would once again touch the four corners of the world. 

Since then, there have been more—Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and others.  I was a teenager during Vietnam and several of my classmates served.  A friend (he was also my first boss at Ole Miss) Paul Skierkowski also served during Vietnam.  He, too, was not very forthcoming about his service.  I discovered during a visit to his home in Oklahoma years after he left Ole Miss that he was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and the Air Medal.  Another quiet war hero.  And sad to say, returning veterans were not celebrated as World War II veterans had been, but were subjected to very disrespectful treatment and were scapegoats for others’ mistakes. 

Armistice Day continued to be celebrated on Nov. 11 following the end of World War II.  However, people began calling it Veterans Day instead of Armistice Day.   President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill in 1954 proclaiming Nov. 11 each year as Veterans Day which acknowledged all American veterans of all wars. 

In 1968, a law changed the national commemoration of Veterans’ Day to the fourth Monday in October in order to give government employees a three-day holiday.  This change was not widely accepted and in 1978, Congress changed the observance to its traditional date of Nov. 11. 

So on this Veterans Day, I will honor the memory of my father, a World War II veteran and hero.  I will think of Uncle George being in a fox hole afraid to sneeze.  I will honor the memory of my former boss, Paul Skierkowski, the quiet hero.   I will thank all the veterans in my family which include my husband, my son, my brother and several uncles.  I will acknowledge all veterans who have been willing to defend our country, our freedom, and our way of life.  I will be forever grateful for the men and women who have signed on to serve and protect our country.  I will give thanks for their willingness to put their life on the line, for enforcing our laws, for serving in so many ways.  I will give thanks that they are willing to do this often at great sacrifice to themselves and their families.   I urge you to do the same. 

Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

For questions or comments, email hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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