Dave Faries here, recalling tales told by family members from their days in uniform. Although they saw quite a bit of combat, the accounts passed on to me as a teenager tended to be self deprecating, with flashes of humor to distract from the horrors of war.
One had an uncle on a trail in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest probing carefully for a booby trap after coming across a much prized Luger, holstered with the belt tucked neatly—and quite suspiciously—underneath. In his telling, another soldier watched briefly then muttered “what the hell,” picked up the souvenir and wandered off.
A different uncle shared the time he was on outpost duty during the Battle of the Bulge when a German patrol happened by. According to his story, they filed by, watching him carefully until disappearing into the distance. When an officer approached later and asked why he had not fired off a warning, my uncle said matter of factly, “I didn’t want to get shot.”
When he spoke about the airborne drop across the Rhine River, adding that it was his favorite battle, a relative casually related how he landed in a tree, crushed his ankle cutting himself down, and thus spent the day sitting under the tree guarding prisoners. Missing from his version was the jump from 1,000 feet in daylight under heavy fire in which paratroopers dangling from branches were choice targets.
That’s as close as the zip of bullets or crash of artillery got to most of the reminiscences they handed down, at least when I was young. There was a hungry cousin who couldn’t wait out a barrage in Vietnam and climbed out of his hole to find food, so you knew danger was there. But by the time I was old enough to press for more, they were gone. At least I have a trove of stories that make me smile.
Perhaps they would not tell of fear or death, even had I asked. Some things you don’t want to remember. In his memoir of his time in the American Revolution, Joseph Plumb Martin wrote of taking careful aim at a British soldier and pulling the trigger. Black powder smoke obscured what happened. Looking back decades later, Martin admitted that he hoped he did not find his target, even though he intended to at the time.
We all have missed opportunities to learn more, to hear more, to recognize what America’s veterans gave to the country and the world. And we know that time in combat can have tragic consequences, even years later. An average of 20 veterans a day die from suicide. Many are homeless. All have stories to tell.
One day of flag waving and parades, under the circumstances, does not seem like enough. Yet we’ve set aside a day of recognition, and it’s a worthy gesture.
Across Monterey County tomorrow—Veterans Day—there are ceremonies, celebrations, parades and presentations. Some events are solemn, others more joyous, but all with the purpose of giving due recognition to those who donned a uniform, whether in times of peace or war.
Downtown Salinas hosts the 11th annual Veterans Day Parade Thursday afternoon. It should be one of the larger events in the county. The Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce and city of P.G. team up to celebrate the holiday with an event at Lovers Point. In Seaside, American Legion Post 591 gathers at the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery.
On Thursday morning, the Cannery Row Rotary Club welcomes Kurt Schake, executive director of the Veterans Transition Center as guest speaker. American Legion Riders District 28 starts off their busy schedule for the day by setting up flags at Veterans Memorial Park.
Some events take place all week or over the weekend. For instance, the Raven Drum Foundation hosts a storytelling and music concert in support of veterans on Sunday at Folktale Winery. And a few are a bit unexpected, such as free whale watching for those who served.
There are many more ceremonies and discounts, large and small. These are opportunities not to be missed.