By Phil Peterson
John Kennedy once said that “The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it.” So as Veterans Day draws near, let’s remember its cost.
Our first call to arms was in 1917. My grandfather stayed home with his wife and child, but his brothers rushed to the colors. Fred was rejected, but John and Bill went to France. John sent a postcard saying “Dear brother no danger where I’m going.” His unit was gassed; he returned an invalid and, as his lungs failed, died alone in 1926. Fred got a job with a shipping company and rose in management. In 1942 he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel responsible for logistics in the South Pacific – redemption!
During the depression, my mom’s brother enlisted in the Navy. In the fall of 1941, his enlistment over, he had 90 days to collect a reenlistment bonus, but things were looking up, Don was going to play minor league baseball! Sunday morning at breakfast he announced, “I’m spending my bonus today” and then the radio report. Promoted to chief petty officer, he spent the next four years in the Pacific. He injured his arm, never played baseball, never got a bonus and never forgave himself for not being with his buddies at Pearl. In 1945 Jack enlisted in the Navy, caught the end of the war in the Pacific, served in the occupation of Japan, married my dad’s sister, then Korea, retiring from the Navy as a master chief after a 30-year career that included the Cuban Missile Crisis and concluded with Vietnam.
During the cold war, my brother-in-law Tom, a young paratrooper, stood his watch with NATO. In the 1980s, his son Sean stood watch with the Army along the demilitarized zone in Korea. His other son Tommy was a military spouse, whose wife Tracy stood her watch in the Air Force at the North American Aerospace Defense Command radar screens, retired after 20 years and works as an air traffic controller.
Tom’s grandson Alex was in Afghanistan for five weeks when an IED exploded, killing the sergeant next to him. Alex suffers from PTSD and blames himself for hesitating to shoot the woman who carried the bomb.
January 1972, we deployed to the Western Pacific, returning eight months later after being extended on station in response to the communist “Easter Offensive” in Vietnam. We were met by a band, our families and friends on the pier. Not so outside the naval station gate, civility was at low ebb, we were unwanted, scapegoated by a divided nation. We endured.
Kennedy’s challenge to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” today seems all but forgotten. But those patriots at the Legion hall remember, each, in turn, has stood watch committed to our Constitution; to equal protection, tolerance, fairness and civility. So on Veterans Day, Sunday, Nov. 11, perhaps we can spare a moment to remember those who have paid a price for our precious rights.