Occasions like this give us the opportunity to consider modern life and current affairs in the context of world history which framed it all.
It is known outside the US as Armistice Day. And it’s a particularly keen one to note this year.
Armistice Day (also known as Remembrance Day) is on 11 November and commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.
This remembrance, this Veteran’s Day, takes place on another 11-11-11, and much has been made of that. But anything that focuses our attention on those who have served the cause of building and defending a free, just and moral society – what that means and what sacrificies that requires – is a good thing. There are countless stories to tell over the generations, but here are a few, from the Center for Vision & Values.
Dr. Mark Hendrickson has an interesting approach that I’ve always held, ‘what is seen and unseen’, especially since seeing the film Saving Private Ryan. There’s so much we never see of what military service requires and if we saw even a glimpse more of some graphic horrors our troops have faced we’d be thunderstruck. We would also appreciate them much, much more. They have been through so much ‘over there’ wherever that place was for veterans, and they come back and assimilate into suburban or rural or city life with their home folks and I don’t know how they do it.
Like Frank Kravetz, one of the veterans Dr. Paul Kengor writes about in ‘No Regrets.’
“Just existing became what was important,” says 87-year-old Frank Kravetz of Pittsburgh, captive of the “hell-hole” that was Nuremberg Prison Camp. “Yet even as I struggled with the day-to-day sadness and despair, I never once had any regrets that I signed up to serve.”
An extended tour of Nazi camps as a wounded POW scratching for survival wasn’t what Frank had in mind when he signed up to serve his country in World War II. He refused his parents’ wishes to stay home; they already had two sons overseas. Frank was eager to fight for the freedom his Slovakian parents had secured in America. It was the least he could do.
Kengor recounts a similar tale in ‘Nothing Dramatic.’ Veterans always play down their service, ‘just doing my duty’ they usually say.
“It was nothing dramatic,” says Dr. Karl E. Blake of Wexford, Pennsylvania, retired surgeon and member of the World War II generation, “but it was important, and no one has written about it, at least that I’ve seen.”
I got an unexpected call from Dr. Blake last Memorial Day, mid-afternoon, after just returning from the annual Memorial Day Parade in Mercer, Pennsylvania, which every year is a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell portrait—the essence of small-town America. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review had published a profile I did of a local 87-year-old vet (same age as Blake) named Frank Kravetz, a former POW who did time in the “hell-hole” of the Nazis’ Nuremberg Prison Camp. I concluded that article with a plea to aging vets to share their unique experiences with the current generation, imploring them not to take this invaluable history to the grave.
“Well,” said the soft-spoken Blake, reminding me of my own words, “I’ve got something that I don’t think people know about. Someone needs to record this. Get it on-record. Pretty soon, none of us are going to be around to talk about it.”
“Okay,” I told him. “Start talking.”
“What people today don’t understand,” Blake began, getting right to the point, “is that in 1942, 1943, and so on, the government had no idea how long the war was going to last.”
We need to hear this account.
“And the government didn’t know, and the government was making plans for the long-term. There were measures that the government took to get a supply of educated people … dentists, physicians, all kinds of things. American society was going to need professional people. So many young men were serving in the war overseas.”
I hadn’t thought of that. I hadn’t read about it either—Blake’s point precisely.
Blake told me about three government programs, which he abbreviated as V-1, V-12, and ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program). The former were both Navy operations. Blake was in “V-1s.” These were rigorous academic programs heavy in math and science. Among the goals was to create a non-combat professional class. Blake was trained as a doctor…
Dr. Karl E. Blake never planted a flag at Iwo Jima or stormed the beaches of Normandy. He did nothing dramatic, but he did do something extremely important, as did thousands of Americans like him who fought the battle for post-war civilized society. Blake’s wartime training allowed him to save numerous lives after the war, far more than he might have saved in combat.
I heard a newsman say ‘If you see a veteran today, say thanks.’ We should try to do that every day, whenever we encounter one who served or does today, and their families.
God bless them all. And help us work for peace.