Saturday, November 11, 2006
Veteran's Day: Thank you.
First, of course, it is Veteran's Day. A twenty four hour pause in which we as a nation attempt to honor our veterans, a period of time in which each year we once again remember how much honor is truly due to our veterans.
My Dad is in a parade today out in San Diego, as a Veteran of the Year.
He deserves it, not so much for his WWII service in the Navy (not to discount that by any measure) but rather for all the work he has done to champion the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial. It is an breath-taking Memorial, and little known outside of San Diego, even though it is the largest War Memorial west of the Mississippi, and unique in that it honors veteran who served in times of conflict while they may still be alive.
The MSVM began as a tribute to the veterans of the Korean War. A simple red wood cross was erected on Mt. Soledad, in the early 1950's. The cross went through several versions, and at last was placed as concrete links. About a half century went by, and the "top of Mt. Soledad" was a favorite place to visit for a 360 degree view of San Diego.
Then, one day an atheist (who just died a couple of weeks ago...) decided that the sight of a cross on a hill offended him. He pointed out that city funds were used to light the cross and keep it painted. Separation of church and state and all. I'm still not sure exactly what kind of "religion" this cross structure was supposed to inspire. It was just a marker to remind people of the fallen in the Korean War.
But be that as it may...a long story began, with the sale of the ground beneath the cross to the American Legion Post which originally erected the memorial. The atheist wasn't happy with that either, and went to court over it. The case ran all over the 9th circuit, and up to the Supreme Court, and back down to a local judge. Crazy. A few month's ago the cross had to come down, per a local judge's orders. The Supreme court took up the case, and said nothing. The Memorial was declared a Federal monument. All very confusing.
My Dad has been active part of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, and the American Legion post that "owns" the cross (somebody owes them some money if the US government owns it now), and he also designed many of the plaques gracing the walls around the cross.
If you by chance have a US Veteran in your family, who served during wartime, you can have a plaque made and place on the Memorial in his or her honor. Space on the walls truly is limited, and the spaces are going to run out soon.
Honoring your veteran while he/she is alive to enjoy...now that is an amazing way to honor a veteran.
I mentioned that Veteran's Day had three meanings to me. The second meaning is the birthday day of my maternal grandfather, Matthew Stein. He was born Nov.11, 1894, in Salt Lake City, Utah. His family traveled from Germany, coming to Utah, and returning to Germany again, and then returning to Utah permanently.
Grandpa was a Veteran of WWI, along with his brother. He served in France, fared well, and carved the name of each town he went through upon his pipe. The pipe resides in my parent's home, a family treasure. I'll try and get a picture of it next visit.
The third meaning is that Nov. 11th 1975 was the autumn day day my Grandpa celebrated his 81st birthday, seeing family from far and wide while at the Veteran's Hospital awaiting a series of yearly tests. He felt fine, and the tests were part of a routine physical. It was deemed easier at the time to just have veterans spend the night in order to run all the test over roughly a 24 hour interval.
Actually, it was a great way to celebrate a birthday, seeing everyone who dropped by the hospital, and fighting WWI all over again with other veterans checked in overnight for their own routine tests.
I was away at college but had written a letter telling him how much I loved him. I'm not sure, but the card probably had chrysanthemums on it. Those are November's birth flower, and we always had them in the garden blooming just in time to make a center piece for his birthday dinner each year.
After everyone who had come to see him left, and the dough boys had finished their stories, the lights were turned out for the night, and that night, Grandpa quietly died in his sleep.
It doesn't get much better than that. Not for a veteran who was born on Veteran's Day, and died in a Veteran's Hospital, on Veteran's Day. Totally at peace.