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For Veterans Day, Photographs and Memories

Ward Clark/RedState

Armistice Day - Veterans Day - is here again, and as always, it provokes some thought, for those of us who are aware of its meaning. It's a day for those who served, both in its original purposes of recognizing the veterans of the Great War (as Armistice Day) and later, veterans of all our wars -- and, indeed, those who served in times of peace. All deserve recognition. On this Veterans Day, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the veterans in my own family, the men I grew up among, the woman I married, and a few others. To do this, come along with me as I take a walk through the family history.

The Revolution and the Civil War

I have two ancestors who signed the Declaration of Independence, Thomas McKean and Abraham Clark. While Clark did not serve in a military capacity, he was a key figure in the Revolution, serving as a delegate from New Jersey to the Continental Congress. Thomas McKean, while also a key figure in the Revolution (at one point serving as President of Congress) he also, shortly after casting his vote for independence in 1776, left the Continental Congress to serve as colonel in command of the Fourth Battalion of the Pennsylvania Associators, a militia unit created by Benjamin Franklin in 1747. He served in that capacity under General Washington in the defense of New York. 

This was the beginning of a family tradition.

I know for certain of one Civil War veteran in my lineage, that being my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Baty, who served in a volunteer infantry regiment and was wounded in battle; he succumbed to complications of his wounds at age 46 -- fortunately for me, not before siring a large family that included my great-grandfather. My grandfather always claimed that his grandfather, after the Civil War had ended, discovered that he had been on the same battlefield but on the opposite side from one of his first cousins at one point; but while this was hardly unusual in that conflict, I've never been able to verify that.

The Great War

My paternal grandfather, Neil Clark, volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1917 when America entered the Great War. Grandpa had an unusual run of service; when he was at Camp Dodge, Iowa, being processed, he drew KP duty one week and, when the Colonel who commanded the post came in with a bunch of quail he had shot on a hunting expedition, Grandpa volunteered to cook the birds. He did such a good job of it that the Colonel pulled some strings, and Grandpa stayed at Camp Dodge for his two-year term, leaving the Army in 1919 as a Quartermaster Sergeant, First Class.

Another notable was our neighbor when my parents were still farming. Grace and Brownie (the only name I ever knew him by) were great "bonus" grandparents when I was very young, and it wasn't until many years later that my mother told me that the older couple were fond of me, as I reminded them of their only son, who was killed early in WWII. Brownie himself served in the Army during the Great War and deployed to France, a conflict about which he never spoke.

World War II

Here, the number of family members increases. My Dad's older brother was in the 101st Airborne. He made one combat jump (Market Garden,) fought at Bastogne, and caught a fragment of an 88 shell after the Airborne entered Germany. He ended up with a metal plate in his forehead, a glass eye, and permanent disability due to brain damage, although he managed a small farm for the rest of his life.

Mom's brothers both served; the older in the Pacific, a Marine, who waded ashore on Pelieieu and Iwo Jima, where he took a Japanese bayonet through the shoulder and nearly died of sepsis. After the war he returned to eastern Iowa and, finding life there somewhat dull, joined the Navy, from which he retired as a Master Chief Petty Officer. Mom's younger brother served as an Army radio operator and gunner in a B-26 bomber over France and Germany, which service he completed without a scratch.

My father also served, but until his dying day felt an odd disconnect from his brother and brothers-in-law, as he did not deploy overseas. After receiving a commission as a second lieutenant, Dad was assigned to navigator's school, then radio navigation school, then aerial rocketry school, finally being sent to California to qualify for the B-29, which he was still doing on VJ Day. To him in particular, even though he is gone, I can only say this: Happy Veterans Day, Dad. I still think of you, every day. 

The Korean War

Here the list shrinks, as only one family member deployed for this, but his service was notable; my brother-in-law Bill was a Marine, one of Chesty Puller's Frozen Chosen, and was wounded in the leg by rifle fire on the retreat from Chosin Reservoir. Bill is gone now, but I know my sister will be remembering him on this day.

Desert Storm

 Late in 1990, I was a first lieutenant (1LT) and HQ platoon leader for a Medical Clearing company, which was deployed to the Middle East in what was then known as Operation Desert Shield. In January of 1991, that turned into Operation Desert Storm when coalition troops attacked Iraqi forces. While deployed, I met and became enamored of a petite female 1LT (the saying was in those days that there were no women in the Army, only female soldiers) who was a bit under five feet tall and maybe weighed 110 pounds soaking wet, but who had a personality that far outweighed her stature. 

Her platoon was assigned to set up a transfer operation in which Army casualties (and many refugees) were treated and stabilized, then handed off to the Air Force for transport to the big Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. The two Colonels (one Army, one Air Force) and the Army Captain who had been assigned to setting up this new operation screwed up so badly that it came to the attention of CentCom's Command Surgeon. The three officers were relieved, which left this tiny 1LT in charge; she set up the operation and ran it, it became the model for two other such installations, and she was awarded the Bronze Star for the effort.

Oh, and I've been married to her for almost 32 years now.

Today

Our nation's veterans have seen better days. My colleague Mike Funicello has documented the difficulties our veterans (and others, such as law enforcement) face in a great, thought-provoking series. We are, indeed, in a time where many veterans struggle to adapt to civilian life, often with ineffective support from the country they served. That's too bad, but we can all do our part to support and sustain the veterans in our own lives, many of whom have seen and done things the general run of the population can't comprehend -- and should be glad of that.

Happy and peaceful Veterans Day, as well as best wishes to all my fellow members of, as Bill Mauldin described it, The Benevolent and Protective Brotherhood of Them What Has Been Shot At. To all who wore Uncle Sam’s colors, this is our day! Go forth and be cheerful, and be also mindful of those who can’t be with us.

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