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Remembering Our Veterans

By Kevin Robinson in Miscellaneous on Nov 11, 2009 7:20PM

Originally known as Armistice Day after the First World War, and recognized as Veteran's Day in the United States, today inevitably becomes one of those sort-of holidays when the Post Office closes and the kids stay home from school. But for many Americans, at least one member of their family has served in the Armed Forces, either during peacetime or in combat. After the jump are the memories and stories of some of our family that served. Add your story of family and friends that served or are serving in the comments below.

My paternal grandfather served in Europe during WWII. A few months after the conclusion of the war, a list of Holocaust survivors/refugees was published in newspapers around the world - including the New York Times. Somebody in New York wired my great-grandfather in Iowa about some survivors with our last name on the list. My great-grandfather then was able to send a telegram to my grandfather, who was in France at the time. Because the general my grandfather served under was from the same hometown as my family and knew my great-grandfather, he granted my grandfather a truck and driver to go into Germany and rescue our cousins - four young couples and an infant born in a post-war refugee camp. My great-grandfather owned a coat factory, and he sponsored them to bring them to Iowa. They came to the U.S. in the mid-40’s and started a new life, but they were in some ways the smart relatives and fled Iowa for Southern California in the early 50’s. It was there that, in many ways, they lived the "American Dream" as successful store owners and real estate investors. This part of the family may not be very close on the family tree - the survivors’ grandfather was one of 15 siblings of my great, great-grandfather. But our parts of the family are incredibly close because of this shared bond. - Benjy Lipsman

I am proud of the many veterans in my family. Five of my great uncles served our country. Uncle Melford Lester served in the South Pacific in WWII; he retired US Navy. Hu Allen Smith served during the Korean and Vietnam Wars as a mechanical crew chief, retiring in 1972 from the US Air Force. Irving Wheeler served in the Korean war; he retired US Air Force. James Perry served in the Korean War and beginning of the Vietnam war; he retired US Navy. James Tignor lost his leg in the Korean war serving in the US Army. My father served in Vietnam in 1969-70 in the US Army. - Amy Perry

Growing up, my sister and I never asked my father about his time in the Navy. He and our mother (a civilian) were stationed in the Pacific immediately after the Vietnam War, mostly in Guam and Japan (where I was born in '79). My mother tells of the typhoons they went through while in Guam but aside from that, we never asked questions. It's not that we weren't curious or that he was troubled by his service; we just assumed it probably wasn't that exciting. We took his dress sword to show-and-tell (back in the '80s when such weapons were allowed on school grounds) and saw plenty of photos of Dad in his dress uniform (including wedding pics). But not until a family dinner in 2005, almost 25 years after he had retired from the military, did we learn that my father had been a cryptographer, intercepting and cracking Soviet messages. We lost it; our father had been a spy and had never bothered to mention this to us? He just shrugged and said, "Well, you never asked." We turned to our mother for support but she only offered, "I learned - when the general called at 2 a.m. and asked for your father - to not to ask questions." - Marcus Gilmer

My mom was an Air Force brat, and while we spent a lot of holidays on or near Patrick AFB, I only started to comprehend the depth of my grandfather's career when I started doing some research into the Holocaust for a high school project. It was only then that I learned that as a member (and eventual Colonel & Commanding Officer of the Aerospace Audiovisual Service) of the 33rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron his job was to go into places like Dachau and the like to document the horrors that went on there. I paged through some of the photographs that he took and worked on and sat in shock at the things I only read about and had previously glossed over - and he was there bringing all of us those images. To this day there's a very good chance that when someone looks at a photo taken at a concentration camp, he took it or worked on it. I was never called to serve, but I'm glad that there were guys like my grandfather, Col. Jim Warndorf in there. - Karl Klockars

My maternal grandfather never talked about the war or his time in the military - this is all second hand information from family. But I know that he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1938 when he was 17, to fight in World War 2. Because he came to Chicago from Eastern Europe with my great grandparents when he was a toddler, he'd never been naturalized. It wasn't until he joined the Army that they realized he wasn't a citizen, and so it was the military was what gave him his citizenship. They swore him in, signed him up and shipped him out, where he became a radio sergeant in the artillery. He served through the rest of the war, including fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. When the war ended, he signed up for a second term in the Army of the Occupation, serving in Maastricht, before returning to the South side of Chicago to work in the mills and raise a family. - Kevin Robinson

And from our very own vet, Chuck Sudo: I enlisted in the Navy for many of the same reasons that scores of men and women do: it's a guaranteed paycheck; I may have learned a skill that could benefit me later; I wanted to travel and couldn't afford to; I just wanted to leave home. I didn't have any altruistic notions about serving my country or "protecting and defending the Constitution" in mind when I signed a six-year enlistment contract in 1988. To be fair, I don't think I was that good of a sailor, either. Certainly not from a standpoint of military bearing. Then as now I tend to speak my mind. But the six years I served in outposts from Norfolk to Orlando to Indonesia and the Persian Gulf, the experiences gathered from my time in service, helped to form the man I am today. It just took a few years for those lessons to take hold.

The men and women who served, those who currently wear the uniform and those who will serve in the future willingly give up their Constitutional rights so that you may enjoy the freedoms from this uniquely American experiment in Democracy. The Constitution is a revolutionary document in every sense of the word, designed to evolve, to live, and to breathe like the people that it governs. It is resilient enough to change with the times in order to meet the challenges of its third century and rigid enough to preserve the ideals that inspired its original articles and amendments. So long as we are willing and able to put in the effort required to defend and nurture it, then I believe with all my heart that it will continue to thrive for generations to come.

Our veterans are on the front line of that defense. Take the time to thank them if you see one today.