10 November 2017

Veterans' Day (Armistice Day) 2017. . .

Yes, that's a German helmet atop the cross.

As a child, our nearest neighbors were Harrison and Florence Terrell, who lived across the lane from my maternal grandparents' place in rural southeastern Pennsylvania.  They were a generation older than my grandparents, Philadelphia Quakers, who had bought a place in the country sometime during the 1940s, to spend the weekends.  We visited their house often as children along with our grandmother, who was close to Mrs. Terrell.  

Mr. Terrell was an attorney, smoked a pipe, and always had a chessboard set up in his den, where he conducted play by mail games against various Philadelphia-area friends and acquaintances.  He was friendly without being overly so -- as seems to be the case with too many people in 2017 -- talked with ease about a variety of topics to both children and adults, and occasionally asked me to walk the perimeter of (some of) their property (they owned virtually the entire mountaintop at that time) to check the traps with him.  Mr. Terrell believed firmly in keeping down "the vermin,"  as he referred to certain animals, with a small bore shotgun and traps.  A contradiction of sorts, but there you are. 

Anyway, when he was a younger man, and although Quakers are pacifists, Mr. Terrell was drafted shortly after the United States entered the 1914-1918 war.  As unlikely as it seems, he answered the call and soon found himself somewhere in France in the midst of things.

I always meant to ask him about his experiences, but as a child you don't necessarily understand that people who have been through war might not want to talk about what they may have seen and done.  My own grandfather, an anti-aircraft gunner first, later a glider pilot and paratrooper during the 1939-1945 war, once quietly advised me not to ask Mr. Terrell about his time in France, so I did not.  

The two men may have shared their wartime experiences with each other at some point, but that is idle speculation on my part.  It might simply have been that, as a former soldier himself, my grandfather had a silent understanding with Mr. Terrell.  Like so much else about the world, and war itself to be frank, I simply don't know.

But as  a child, I idolized both Mr. Terrell and my grandfather, so I decided at eight or nine to let the matter rest.  I think of both men often but especially on days like today, Veterans' Day as we call it here in the United States.  At the same time, it is important to realize that families in other countries -- those who might have been on the wrong ideological side -- have also lost sons, daughters, and other family members in war. . .  soldiers, sailors, airmen, and civilians. 

As interesting as military history is, and as much fun as toy soldiers provide, war in whatever form it takes must surely be an awful thing to those who experience it first hand as combatants as well as those who are touched by it in some other way.  Somehow, though, that observation seems like an vast understatement, which simply cannot address the sheer magnitude, horror, and tragedy that war is in any form and by any name.

-- Stokes


Well, it seems I am a day ahead of myself, whatever that might mean.  But the thoughts and sentiments remain.


A J said...

Sobering thoughts. I'm reminded of an occasion where a British WW2 veteran of the D Day landings visited a German cemetery nearby a Commonwealth graveyard in Normandy. A few yards away he saw another elderly man, a German veteran, viewing the graves. They looked at each other and both began to weep at the same time before moving to hug each other. They didn't share much in the way of language, but as men who'd been there at that time, they needed no words.

Michael Peterson said...

Thanks, Stokes. Lovely story, a very profound meditation.


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