Veterans Day raises memories of those who carried the weapons — for real

I realize that Veteran’s Day has come and gone, and I usually write some kind of firearms-related piece for the newspaper. 

But this kind of is one of those. 

I was just reading an old gun-zine that had some stories of heroic acts by World War II soldiers. These acts were all accomplished in some way with a firearm, as are most acts of heroism in war – with the use of some kind of weapon. Unfortunately, to save the lives of their buddies, most likely someone else had to be killed by the hero(es).

Not many WWII Veterans are left to tell their stories any more. Luckily, many have been interviewed for print and film and we have a huge amount of history captured directly from the people who made said history. I have great respect for anyone who served their country but immensely for anyone who has put their life on the line to save others. 

It’s one thing to fight for the lives of your friends and family, whom you know and love; it’s quite something else to die for “your country.” I know many Vietnam combat Veterans say they actually just fought to save their buddies, but I think that is way too modest and simplistic. If that were their sole motivation, they would have just refused to go to war in the first place, or refused to fight.

You will notice that at no time in this article will the word Veteran not be capitalized. I don’t believe it ever should be if used to describe an honorable former service member.

Both of my grandfathers were in World War II. One of my biggest regrets was not getting more stories out of them before they died. 

One was more forthcoming with his stories and the other said virtually nothing about it – to me, anyway. I know the more tight-lipped one was much more “in the thick of it” and as most Veterans I know of, who actually had to do the fighting, they don’t usually like to talk about it. 

I’m not sure if it would have been a good thing to try to get him to open up about it, as he actually saw Nazi concentration camps with his own eyes. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to recall memories like that any more than they already do, so it may not be that big of a regret.

I try to thank WWII Veterans especially. They have many times been called the “Greatest Generation,” a well-  earned title indeed. Many of the U.S. troops sent to both the European and Japanese theaters were volunteers. Kids of 14, 15, and 16 were lying about their age by the thousands to volunteer for the war effort. 

Women stayed home and raised families while working tirelessly to keep virtually the whole of the Allies supplied and equipped. For the vast majority of these men and women, there was no economic reward for their service and sacrifices. Sure, they got paid but is was barely enough to survive, not thrive.

I also believe, as a whole, that World War II was the dirtiest, coldest, hottest, stinkiest, rottenest, most terrible war ever fought by American troops. It had every element of any war fought since and was on a tremendous scale. 

They don’t call it the “Big One” for nothing.

America won WWII, no not single-handedly but if we hadn’t gotten involved in Europe there is no argument that the world east of the Atlantic Ocean would not be drastically different today. We had to fight Japan, they came over and slapped our face and woke, not a sleeping, but a restless giant. However we basically chose to fight in Europe to stop the Axis powers and save whole continents.

As a testament to the Veterans of the last 40 years or so; every war we’ve fought since has been 100 percent volunteer, also. Apparently, we still raise some outstanding young people today; there might not be as many of them but with our current technologies it’s luckily been enough.

If you can just recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or pass by Memorial Day, D-Day or even Independence Day without thinking of the sometimes horrific and gruesome sacrifices made for you by current and past generations and their families you need to think about it a little bit more and not take such a huge thing for granted. 

I feel I can say all of this unabashedly since I have never served in the military and can’t be accused of trying to drum up sympathy or support for my “bothers” or because of some chip on my shoulder. 

I haven’t earned the right to call Veterans my brothers, but I sure as heck wouldn’t be ashamed to do so.

I don’t mind admitting that as I’ve gotten older and realized the importance of the Veterans and what they have experienced, I can’t watch an authentic war movie, see or read about the sacrifices made by Veterans of any time period, or talk to the men who were actually there, without choking back tears.

Many times I am not successful. I actually hugged one old tough SOB (apologies to his mother but I can’t think of a better way to describe him) who fought in WWII and dropped a tear or two on his shoulder. 

At the time I did it, I thought he might think it was sissy, or fake, or weird, but he didn’t. 

He realized the sincerity of my gratitude and emotions but he didn’t shed a tear and he lived through the things I only read about. 

Like I said, he’s one tough SOB!