WHEN I WAS A KID - Six
When I was a kid, the significance of Armistice Day, now Veterans Day, was not completely apparent to me. But we were taught in school that the red paper flowers sold that day, the poppies, began with a poem written by a Canadian World War I Colonel, John McCrae, a surgeon with an artillery brigade. They represented the poppies that grew among the "row on row" of white crosses set upon the graves of soldiers who died on the battlefields of Flanders in Belgium, and in France.
Over time Armistice Day and Veterans Day somehow merged into one, and the wearing of poppies was a continuing symbol for honoring veterans of both World War I and World War II. The paper poppies were sold all over in the towns and cities.
The blossom was made of red crape paper, rolled to look like a poppy blossom, and the stem, topped with little black balls, was made to look like a stamen, and stuck down through the blossom. The two parts were wrapped tightly together with sticky green tape. The poppies were pinned, with a complimentary straight pin, to the shirt or coat of every purchaser by the poppy seller. It was the kind of pin that women used to keep cloth together when sewing a hem or a dress.
Pinning the poppy on seemed to me to be a special little ceremony performed for each person. I was a small child, but I felt the feelings happening, and I knew they were important.
The ladies at the American Legion sold the poppies. The price was a voluntary contribution. Some people gave fifty cents. Some gave a dollar, and many gave even more. (Money meant more back then and a dollar or two was a good contribution.) I saw many people buy several. They pinned the extra one onto the coat of a wife or of a husband. Some parents had a poppy pinned onto the clothes of each of their children.
World War II had ended just several years before and the wounds to the young men in the county were still in visual evidence in a number of ways. People took Veterans Day seriously. Even as a child, I knew how important Veterans Day was.
I just didn’t know the deep significance of it.
There was always a parade on Veterans Day. The men and women of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, marched. Several men in wheel chairs rolled behind, or were pushed along by a wife or a friend. Flags were balanced at the waist on a special harness, or carried high by the honor guard. People from towns and from farms in the county lined the street to watch as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars marched. There was always a special marching performance, and the band played patriotic music. Then the veterans marched down Johnson Avenue all the way to the cemetery at the east edge of town. The onlookers, on each side of the street, marched along with them and the kids ran along beside their parents. The parade ended at the cemetery where there was a long, and very solemn, ceremony. The names of the fallen were called out. The ceremony closed with a bugaler playing taps and a long salute of rifle fire into the air.
How the veterans were benefitted from the poppy sale wasn’t clear to me. I knew that the money went someplace, to help servicemen and women . . . in some way. People knew they had done a good thing when they contributed.
That all seems to have happened so long ago. It was long ago . . . in years. Other wars were fought all over the world long before that time in the history of the world, and more wars have been fought since. Wars are being fought many places on earth right now. All were, and are, a terrible and useless waste of humankind.
Somehow, World War II sticks in my mind as being something different. It began before I was born and it was finally over when I was a young kid. My formative years were strongly impacted by World War II.
I live in Branson, Missouri, now. I’ve been here eleven years.
Branson, Missouri, takes veterans seriously. We know who is responsible for our free country.
Maybe because we’re an entertainment community, and because we have venues to take good care of our veteran's requirements, a small city that has hundreds of rooms, and plenty of restaurants of every kind, and many places to meet, we’re a natural destination as a common gathering place on such an important day in this country.
We give extra thanks and honor to our country’s veterans by offering these venues to them in a number of ways to make it possible to come together as one.
But I think it’s much more. I think it’s the heart of the place. I think Branson gets it.
Significance . . . a word I use several times in this piece. As a kid, I did not fully understand the significance of Veterans Day.
Last year I was at dinner with friends at a restaurant where the servers are stars in their own right. At all times, one of them is entertaining the diners with song.
It was Veterans Day here . . . or rather, Veterans Week. We honor Veterans Day and veterans for a week, here in Branson. (This year, 2008, it’s November 5 through 11.)
The diners were from everywhere, mostly veterans and their spouses. At one table there were fourteen people, Korean War veterans, and their wives. The entertainer sang several beautiful songs aimed at showing everyone how he felt about veteran's contributions to our free country. His efforts were highly appreciated. All of the diners at that table stood, several times, to show him that.
A couple sat by themselves at another table. The man was facing us, and his wife had her back to us. I could see that the man was becoming emotional and tried to avoid looking at him.
After one moving selection from the entertainer, I involuntarily glanced at the man facing me. His head was bent slightly, his face completely immobile, but tears streamed down his cheeks like rain.
There. You have it. Veterans Day. Read into it what you will. There’s the significance of it.