Especially My Grandfather
By Jeff Salter
“The courage and patriotism of all men and women who have served in the armed services of the United States are honored on Veterans’ Day.”
Before I cite an abbreviated history of Veterans’ Day, let me share one of the many special ties I have to this annual observance.
My maternal grandfather served with the 81st (‘Wildcat’) Division in the combat trenches of France during World War I. From transcribing his few surviving letters and reading some history of his unit – HQ Company of 322nd Infantry Regiment, 161st Infantry Brigade – I have pieced together that his unit was still fighting the very day BEFORE armistice was called. And they were on the ‘line’ and ready to go ‘over the top’ again on Armistice Day itself!
According to the discharge papers of Private Willie M. Robinson, these are his “battles, engagements, skirmishes, expeditions”:
St. Die Sector — Sept. 21 to Oct. 16 (1918)
Somme Dieu Sector (at or nearVerdun?) — Nov. 6 to Nov. 9 (1918)
Meuse-Argonne Offensive (near Etain?) — Nov. 9 to Nov. 11 (1918)
So you can see why the Armistice – ending the hostilities – is so important to me.
My Grandfather would likely have been fighting that very day –and beyond – had it not been signed. Casualties were very high in the Meuse-Argonne — had the war continued, my Grandfather might not have made it home. Nov. 11, 1918, was nearly four years before my mother was born, so the obvious conclusion is (if not for the Armistice): my mom may not have been born and consequently, I might not even be here.
In 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month, the world rejoiced and celebrated. After four years of bitter war, an armistice was signed. The “war to end all wars” was over.
Nov. 11, 1919 was set aside as Armistice Day in the United States, to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during World War I in order to ensure a lasting peace. On Armistice Day, soldiers who survived the war marched in a parade through their home towns. Politicians and veteran officers gave speeches and held ceremonies of thanks for the peace they had won.
Congress voted Armistice Day a federal holiday in 1938, 20 years after the war ended. But (by then) Americans realized that the previous war would not be the last one. World War II began the following year and nations great and small again participated in a bloody struggle. After World War II, Armistice Day continued to be observed on Nov. 11.
In 1953 townspeople in Emporia, Kansas, called the holiday Veterans’ Day in gratitude to all the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill introduced by a Kansas congressman renaming the federal holiday to Veterans’ Day. In 1971 President Nixon declared it a federal holiday on the second Monday in November.
Americans still give thanks for peace on Veterans’ Day. There are ceremonies and speeches and at 11:00 in the morning, most Americans observe a moment of silence, remembering those who fought for peace.
Since the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, the emphasis has shifted. There are fewer military parades and ceremonies. Families who have lost sons and daughters in wars turn their thoughts more toward peace and the avoidance of future wars.
Veterans of military service have organized support groups such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. On Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day, these groups raise funds for their charitable activities by selling paper poppies made by disabled veterans. This bright red wild-flower became a symbol of World War I after a bloody battle in a field of poppies called Flanders Field in Belgium.
[Excerpted from material presented by the Embassy of the United States of America]
Other Family Veterans
Besides my grandfather who was in the WW1 trenches when the Armistice took effect, there are many other veterans in my extended family.
My father’s grandfather served in the Civil War (on the Southern side, of course).
In World War II:
* My father, Simon A. Salter, an Army Lt. in the European Theater
* My Uncle Edgar Benny, Navy (Pacific Theater)
* My Uncle ‘Berry’ Broadway, Seabees (Construction Battalion) Pacific
* My Uncle Calvin (Army, I think)
Also: my brother, who attained the rank of Lt. Col. in his Army career
* me: U.S. Air Force (1971-74), USAF Reserve (1974-76), Louisiana Army National Guard (1978-80).
* my brother-in-law, USAF for nearly 8 years.
Many in my wife’s family, including: grandfather (Marine in WWI), father (Army in the Pacific during WW2), an uncle who was at Pearl Harbor on 12-7-41; other uncles in the Army and Army Air Corps during WW2; a first cousin who reached the highest enlisted rank during his career in the Army; a first cousin who was a Marine during Vietnam, and another first cousin who (as a reservist with the 82nd Airborne) jumped out of perfectly good airplanes!
Are there many veterans in your extended family?
My brother was in the Army during Desert Storm and went on to be a reservist. Both of my sons are in the military right now. The oldest is a CW4 in the Army. He flies Blackhawk helicopters and is in Afghanistan right now. My second oldest son is a Tech Sargeant in the Air Force and is in Greenland right now. Both have had several tours of Iraq.
Janette, your family is definitely veteran-oriented. I know you must be proud of their service.
Where in Greenland is your AF son? I was stationed at Thule AB in NW Greenland for 11.5 months — between Sept. ’72 & Aug. ’73. Arctic Night and Midnight Sun.
He is also at Thule. Is that the only AB up there? (I know I should know better than to have to ask)
I’ll bet it has not changed much … except everything is prob. computers now.
I was editor of the base newspaper and worked at the AFRTS station — mostly on radio, but later on TV.
Yes, there used to be a USAF base at the southern tip of Greenland. Called Sonderstrom, with two dots over the last ‘o’.
You’re probably right, “mostly computers.” That’s also probably why he’scalled a “Tech Sargeant.” I had a problem imagining that as a military job. But that’s ok with me as long as nobody’s shooting at him!
I have a lot of veterans in my family and still have a lot of cousins in the services. I loved your tribute, Jeff.
I didn’t even list my second cousins (and I know of one who was in the Navy during Desert Storm 20 years ago). And I didn’t list my wife’s in-laws: bro-in-law in Army Reserve, husband of her first cousin in Navy during Vietnam.
I do have family members and extended family members who have served our country as far back as the Civil War. For that I am grateful. I wish I knew the details of their services. I do not. Except for my grandfather who served with the Air Force during WWII and the Korean Wars. I’ve mentioned here before that he survived 8 airplane crashes, 1 helicopter crash, 2 air raids, and the occupation of an island base where he was only 1 of 26 people out of over 200 that survived. He was pretty damned lucky. 🙂
Thanks to all who have served and continue to serve and protect our country.
Jenn, I’m glad you reminded me of that story about your grandfather surviving those horrible circumstances. I would love to read more about his service if anybody in your family ever writes it up.
Do any of his war-time letters survive?
Unfortunately, after he passed away (from cancer) and after my grandmother passed, the tension among several family members broke. Many, many things have come up missing, including some of his wartime paraphernalia. A few years back, I tried to collect as much information as I could so that I could write his story. Much of it I retained from listening to him talk at holiday meals. I did get a hold of some records, as well. However, there is one incident that I can’t seem to locate any data on.
My fiction writing began to take off and I have not revisited my efforts. But one day, his story will be told. 🙂
When I was between novels # 3 and # 4, I took on the task of assembling the war record of my wife’s Uncle Tommy, who was a P-47 pilot in WW2. It was always a mystery to me that he didn’t have any combat time, even though he was flying during the final two years of the war. With the considerable stash of paperwork he left (which a cousin obtained after the uncle’s death), I was able to piece together that he’d been given several sets of orders for overseas … but in each case, his unit (or the smaller group he was lumped in with) was shifted elsewhere at the last minute. In one such case, he was in the outgoing port and would have shipped out the following day … when the orders changed. He finally went overseas, but was in a ‘rear’ area flying training missions until the war ended.
My father who was born in 1900 was called up to fight and was on his way to boot camp when WW I ended and he was too old for WW II. Mother had two brothers who were in the military and served during WW II, but I just realized that I don’t know in what capacity. It might have been in the Merchant Marines. My oldest brother Vance was called into the Army and after training was sent to Germany, but thankfully the war in Europe had ended by then. He was in Germany during the Berlin Blockade.
My brother Robert was in the Navy and was a medic. He was stationed with the Marines in Korea during the Korean War and was on one of the hills that was surrounded. Don’t know whether it was Pork Chop Hill or not, but he saw a lot of really bad stuff and refused to talk about it when he came home. He hated the TV show MASH!
Ronny was in the Air Force (1962 – 1966) and was in photography. He worked with the Voodoos, loading and unloading their film, processing it and helping to plot bombing raids. He was stationed in Japan for his last two years and was sent on numerous TDYs to Vietnam during that time. His brother was in the Air Force and was in Vietnam for a while.
My brother Frank who was four years older than me was making a career out of the Air Force (1962-1968) when he came down with pancreatic cancer and had to take medical discharge. He served in Vietnam and barely got out of one location before it fell. Frank was sent to Thailand then. He was stationed in Spain for two years and was there when they were searching for the atomic bomb that accidentally fell off of a plane.
The rest of my Veterans:
Great Grandfather John Preston Bond, Civil War as a Confederate and was at Vicksburg during the siege. After being taken prisoner, he quit the fight and went home.
Brother-in-law, Joseph H. Baker, Jr. U.S. Army for a short while at end of WWII, but no combat. Joined USAF after college and made a career of it. Flew KC 135s, retired as Lt. Col.
Nephews: Richard Baker, made a career out of USAF, flew KC 135s, retired as Major
John Baker, US Army for four year, US Army reserves for 2
Bobby Glass, USAF for 20 years
Mark Glass, USAF for 4 years.
Sorry this is so long.
Wow, Sug. I’m surprised to see so many CAREER military in one extended family. And TWO who flew tankers! What are the odds of that?
Glad you mentioned your Civil War great-grandfather, because that same thing happened to mine. He was captured –though I don’t know which battle — and after a period of imprisonment, he was ‘paroled’ if he signed a pledge not to take up arms. He did … and as I understand it, he just went home also. Though in his case, there’s some confusion whether he went HOME … or went somewhere else and started a new life with a new family (mine). If that’s the case, it may be that his former home was destroyed and his first family killed. That happened more than we might imagine.
A distant cousin found a journal that my Great-Grandfather kept while he was at Vicksburg. She typed it up and it has spread throughout the extended Bond family. It was rather surprising that he really didn’t talk about the war too much. He did talk about the conditions under which they were living (terrible) and about getting sick and going to the infirmary. He also complained about all the gambling, drinking and cursing the other solders did. I got the impression that he was rather a prude. He sent the journal home before Vicksburg was taken. Mail was so spasmodic and he was afraid that he would be killed and he wanted her to have. When he had a chance to send it home, he did.
That’s fantastic that your ancestor’s journal survived! What a treasure trove of insight into the time and conditions.
What an amazing post and a great tribute to your grandfather, Jeff. It makes me so proud when I hear of men and women making the sacrifice (and sometimes the ultimate sacrifice) to serve our country and to defend our freedoms. I tear up immediately when I see someone in uniform or their fatigues out in public and I always make a point to go up to them and shake their hand, offering my gratitude to them. It’s not much, but it’s the least I can do. I will never forget what our servicemen and women have done and continue to do!
Thanks for this lovely post!!!
Thanks for your very kind words, Renee.
I’m deeply gratified that the veterans of the first Gulf War and the current military involved in the Iraq / Afghanistan conflicts are generally so well-treated and appreciated by the public.
It wasn’t that way during most of the Vietnam era and I have buddies who endured horrible experiences on the homefront. Nothing bad like that ever happened to me, but I never wore my uniform on leave and very rarely when I was off-duty.
It has always saddened me so, how the Vietnam Vets were treated.There weren’t over there because they WANTED to be.
I’d read a lot of stories in the media (at the time and later) of some horrible things, but like I said: nobody did anything bad to me. I know a guy who (along with some of his buddies) was left abandoned in the middle of a busy freeway in CA … after the taxi driver took the keys and jumped out of the cab … and ran away.
Spent yesterday visiting with a cousin who turns 78 Saturday. One of the topics we discussed was the value of military training. A professor emeritus, he suggests that every American should spend two years in some sort of service to the country, military or charitable, before attempting college. The interesting thing to me is that the military recognizes and makes use of individual talent. My cousin spent his years in service performing with the Air Force Chorus. My father-in-law played baseball for the Navy. My father was 4F, but a sort of mechanical wizard. When jet engines were introduced during WWII, he was assigned the task of teaching a crew how to repair and maintain them. No manual. Here’s a jet engine. Figure it out.
Chris, there are certainly exceptions to a military person’s talents being utilized, but I was one of those fortunate ones who WAS allowed to continue what i was doing as a civilian. After Basic Training, I was given a ‘direct duty assignment’ — meaning I was not sent to technical school for any job. Instead they sent me where I’d be working on a base newspaper. Yep, that’s what I was doing before my enlistment — I was a photo-journalist and asst. editor for a small town daily and a small town weekly.
I love the story about your father’s ability to comprehend the new jet engines and teach that to the flyers and mechanics. During war-time there’s not a lot of extra time to spend writing text books and training manuals … so it was expedient to take the guys who knew what they were doing and send them to the places where military folks were waiting to implement the new equipment. In that case … jet engines.
One thing puzzles me, however: I knew the U.S. was studying the German jets (and even some Japanese prototypes, later), but I didn’t know we had any jets of our own during WW2.
Sometime late in the war, he said (but he died in 1987, so I can’t ask again) a jet was delivered to Brookley AFB in Mobile (closed about 1964). Or a jet engine. No verification available!
Gosh, I’d love to know more about this. He may have been working on one of the earliest secret prototypes.
In my generation, not so much, but then there aren’t very many of us. But, my maternal grandfather served in WWII in the Army Air Corps (it was called then), my step-grandfather stormed Normandy Beach, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my stepfather was a Seabee in Vietnam. I have an uncle who served as an MP in South Korea in the late 60’s early 70’s. My cousin’s husband was in the Navy during Desert Storm. My dad was in the Louisiana National Guard in the late 60’s, early 70’s (I think).
What unit was your father in, Danica? I was a member of Co. D, 528th Engineering Battalian, which was headquartered in the Monroe area. It’s involved in transportation now, I think.
Good morning, Jeff. Thank you for this post. I have military on all sides and deep into the extended family as well, including all the services. I’m an Army groupie myself. Father: Captain, US Army serving in WWII, Brother: Lieutenant, US Army, Intelligence during VIetnam; Sister: Lieutenant, US Army Nursing Corp, during Korea. Brothers-in-law: Navy and US Airforce; Father-in-law: British Army, WWII. My father’s family service record (known to me) dates back to the Civil War with a Private in the 20th Maine, serving at Gettysburg under Joshua Chamberlain.
During the Vietnam war, I was a protestor in every rally in San Francisco but never against the courageous men and women who were ready to put their lives at risk for their country.
The hero of my book, Wait a Lonely Lifetime, is a US Army Captain – in tribute to my father and all the others who have given their service and lives to keep us safe.
Now that I am back in the States, I miss the red poppies provided by the British Legion. They are a great tribute and raise funds for veterans. I’m always praying for an end to war, but never cease to admire those who serve in this self-sacrificing way. — Leigh
Thanks for posting, Leigh. Glad to learn that you have a primary character who’s in the military. Funny thing about the red poppies. Only one place I’ve lived has had any focus on poppies: I think it was a high school sorority in Shreveport. The girls sold them on the street corners of downtown (and likely elsewhere) on Veterna’s Day. Everywhere else I’ve lived, poppies have been ignored.
I never even knew anything about the use of red poppies until this blog!
When you sit down and read the sacrifices of time and self by those who served, you can’t help but feel a welling of pride. It makes me proud to know so many of our countrymen fought for freedom over the entire globe.
I have a soldier from the Civil War buried on the grounds of Beau Voir in Biloxi. My father and three of his four brothers served in WW II. His youngest brother, too young to enlist at the time, enlisted later. Dad was a Seabee, two brothers were in the Army, one Airforce. (The youngest brother? He was one of the original designers of flight simulators to train new pilots in preparation for war.) Many of Dad’s sisters husbands, my uncles, were military. I lost a friend and heart-partner in Viet Nam. A cousin in the Airforce during Nam went from fixed wing to rotary, flying helicopters to carry arms and men where traditional aircraft couldn’t insert– and bring wounded men out to medicial care and safety. He retired his Airforce career as Commander of the air base in Okinowa. (Couldn’t get flying out of his blood though, and went to flying commercial airplanes!) My oldest son served as scout/sniper in the Marine Corps during Desert Storm.
The thing we need to remember when we see photos or film of grim-faced men, muddy from the trenches, or bloody from wounds or dragging comrades back to safety, each and every one of them is a husband, son, brother, father, cousin, friend or neighbor to someone.
All I can say is Bless you all. My pathetic thank you seems so insufficient when compared to your monumentous service. But know it comes straight from my heart.
Very true, Runere. And when you think of all those spouses, children, siblings, parents, cousins, friends, neighbors — even today with such superb technology in communications — imagine how hard it was during WW1 & WW2 & Korea … when letters took weeks to be delivered (if at all). No phone calls. If you got a telegram, it was nearly always bad news.
It’s difficult for me to imagine what those homefront people went through … not knowing and not able to communicate.
I thank those who serve and have served…every day of the year. And I do have some extended family who have served. My uncle is buried at Arlington after life-long service to country. I do, however, also admit my gratitude that, so far, none of my grandsons and grandaughters have had to be involved in conflicts or wars. I know that’s selfish of me, but it’s how I feel. That doesn’t diminish the importance of those who do serve in my mind. I’m just an over-protective Grandma. 🙂
Wow, burial at Arlington is a very high military honor. To my knowledge none of my relatives/ancestors are buried in military cemeteries anywhere. All are in family plots as far as I know.
Yes, I understand the feeling of protectiveness: nobody wants their kin to be in harm’s way. During my service, I was very fortunate to have never been assigned to duty in a combat area. I had several friends and co-workers who were stationed in S.E. Asia during the Vietnam conflict — and some of them had daily rocket attacks from the Viet Cong.
Then I’ll add your friends and co-workers and you to the list of folks I thank. Thank you. I’ll probably never know exactly what my uncle did to earn that honor. We were told all along that his work was as an ambassador. We found out after his death his work had as much or more to do with a three-letter agency as it did with being an ambassador. I bet his life was interesting. I didn’t know him well. He was gone a lot. Hmmmm.
I have heard of military personnel serving as “attache” to agencies and/or governments. Perhaps that was one of his duties.
As an “ambassador” per se, it seems like he would have to be a civilian.
Of course, I’m just relying on High School Civics class. LOL
Thanks for your post Jeff, and your service to your country. Like yours, my family has a history of service. My maternal grandfather has to be the most eclectic with the Merchant Marines, Air Force and one more … I’m drawing a blank. My father was in the Army, and my husband is retired from the Air Force, four years active and 16 years Reserves.
Thank you, Louisa. I’m glad you could visit again.
That’s quite a jump — from Merchant Marines to Air Force.
Until recently, the Merchant Marines were excluded from veteran’s benefits … which is outrageous considering their war-time losses were among the highest casualty rates of any service.
Thanks, Jeff. For all of that. Wonderful post.
Wish I could remember Uncle Calvin’s last name. He’s the uncle I don’t think I ever met. My Aunt Izzie’s first husband.
My grandfather and my husband’s grandfather both served, as did each of our uncles. We have some interesting memorabilia from my husband’s grandfather (so interesting we saw an identical piece featured on the history channel), while my own grandfather took a bullet while in service (ironically, he was stateside when it happened).
This is a lovely post. Thank you for sharing it.
I’d love to hear more about that memorabilia from your husband’s grandfather. It so happens I collect militaria and I’d love to see a pix of what you have. No, I won’t try to buy it from you. I’m just interested and curious.
Thank you for writing this, Jeff. I lost my grandfather, Amedeo “Michael” Aiello, last year, and he was a proud WWII vet and one of Donovan’s Devils. I miss him every single day.
Very sorry about the loss of your grandfather, Katharine. I’ve read in numerous places that WW2 vets are dying at a rate of nearly 1000 per day. Makes it hard to believe there could be ANY left. And in a few years … there won’t be.
Thank you, Jeff, for your service to our country. I’m not sure of the length of time or the branch of service some of my older relatives served in, but I am a proud Navy wife of 18 years. This was a great post and I am continually blessed and grateful for the service and sacrifice of so many brave men and women.
I appreciate your comments, Micki.
I know enough about the military to understand the families have a tough row to hoe. All the moves, and the additional pressures from on-base ‘society’ …
Yet, when crises hit, those same families often come together in ways that the civilian communities sometimes cannot match.
Like you my Grandfather also served in the 81st division, only he was in the 321st infantry division. I was five years old when he died, he was attacked with mustard gas and survived the attack, he was a member of the D.A.V. I remember him even though I was only five when he died. He would not speak much to his family about his experience in combat. I had asked my Grandmother who lived to the age of 92 once if he had ever spoke of it, she could only tell me that he told her the attack was a suprise and he had to crawl in a ditch until he was able to find a gas mask to put on. She was almost in tears when she spoke of this so I did not want to upset her any more. We believe the mustard gas effected him till the day he died. I still to this day make sure a Flag is on his grave and just a little side note he was also a German fighting for his country the United States of America.
Thanks for commenting, Mike.
I can’t recall if my Grandfather was gassed, but since he was on the line in three separate engagements, it seems likely.
I never met him — he died a few months before I was born. But my mom said my grandfather rarely spoke a word about the war. the few things he did say referred to the rats, the mud, the cold, disease, and being transported on train cars which would hold either 8 horses or 40 men.
And he had lots to say about the lice. Even after boiling their clothing and other forms of laundering, they still were picking out the lice by fingertips and tweezers. I guess those particular lice were dead, of course.
My grandfather spent some time in one or more military hospitals … for pneumonia, I think. Not certain.
My grandkids had a Vets Day ceremony today at their school and I went (as I’ve done every year they’ve been here). I took my grandfather’s helmet and showed the kids in that first grade class.