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?