SOLON– Veterans Day, sometimes known as Remembrance Day, is a time for honoring all those who have worn the uniform of the United States Military.
Following the presentation of the colors by the Solon American Legion Post 460, and the playing of the national anthem by the eighth grade band, five ex-service members spoke at the annual Veterans Day Program held at the middle school.
Veterans for Peace members Louis DeGrazia, Bill Eginton, Ed Flaherty, Steve Hanken, Linda Fisher and Paul Deaton gave a different Veterans Day talk. The group, made up of veterans from WWII through Iraq and Afghanistan, are “deeply concerned about the cost of war,” said DeGrazia, a veteran of Korea (1954-1956).
“We are concerned about the ease of getting into war, and the difficulty of getting out,” DeGrazia said. Veterans for Peace advocate for negotiation rather than armed conflict, he added.
Eginton served in the Navy during WWII aboard the battleship USS Missouri, famous for being the scene of the official surrender of Imperial Japan in 1945. A self-described boy who grew up in a small town in Iowa, Eginton told the small crowd of how “all of us were deeply involved in the war effort.” He painted a picture of rationing, a concept foreign to generations since.
Upon his return in 1946, Eginton said he returned to a changed country, and saw “the militarization of our society.” The former sailor cited president and five-star General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s alleged warnings about the dangers of the so-called “military-industrial complex.”
Flaherty, who served in the Army from 1966-1968 in Germany, gave a brief history of Veterans Day dating back to the end of the first World War in 1918.
“They thought it would be the ‘war to end all wars.’ The world recognized the terrible loss of life and rejoiced on Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 a.m. to celebrate the end of the war.” The day and time coincided with the Armistice, and led to the day originally being known as “Armistice Day.”
“It is a day for us to remember not only the veterans, but also all of the civilians who suffered,” Flaherty said. He sadly stated civilians have historically incurred more injuries and deaths than war fighters. He also pointed out America is involved in a war at least every decade.
Hanken served with a helicopter unit in Vietnam, where his opinion on the military and military service was forever changed. Prior to the program, the vets were given cards expressing gratitude for their service. The card Hanken received said that it was veterans like him who had inspired military service.
“I hope I did not inspire you to join the Army,” Hanken said before telling a story from his time in Vietnam. His unit started out with eight helicopters, and left with four due to the staggering toll enemy ground fire took on the aircraft and their crews. One in particular had been all but destroyed; only the tail assembly remained intact. A crew was dispatched to retrieve it at great risk, and return it to the base. When Hanken saw it at the operations center, he asked why they had gone to so much trouble to bring it back. He said he was told the number painted on the tail counted it as a “recovered aircraft.”
“I decided I did not need to be a part of the military anymore. This tells you your worth in the military.” He added he would strongly dissuade anybody from joining the military, adding however, “it’s okay to be patriotic and to support this government.”
Fisher prefaced her remarks by saying hers would be “the most peaceful.” As a member of the Women in the Air Force Band, she was honored to march in President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration parade.
Deaton, who served in Germany with the Army from 1976-1979, said speaking at the program had a deep meaning for him as his daughter had performed on that very stage as Solon student. He grew up watching the Vietnam War on the nightly TV news and did not like what he saw. Older friends of his had joined and served, adding to his discontent.
“I felt a personal responsibility to effect a change,” and became a commissioned officer with the rank of first lieutenant. Deaton urged the audience to seek and work toward change themselves. “There’s a lot we see that we don’t like, and we need to change it.”
The program took a more traditional turn as the band played the anthems of the military branches, with vets of each invited to stand and be recognized as their tune was played before Legion Post 460 Commander Chris Croy took to the podium for closing remarks.
“Without our veterans, America would not be what we know it as today,” Croy said, urging support for our vets. He put out a plea for employers to make a concerted effort to hire vets, for people to go to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Iowa City and visit hospitalized veterans, and to go to the nursing homes and care centers to do the same there. Even a simple handshake and thank you shows support, Croy said, as does donating to veterans organizations and programs.
“We can do better,” he said of the staggering number of homeless veterans, which he called a national shame and disgrace. Croy referenced Tom Wolfe’s 1979 bestseller “The Right Stuff,” a phrase used to describe what the early astronauts were made of. Croy said, “All of the veterans here have ‘the right stuff.’ Pride in their service binds veterans. Nothing they ever do will eclipse their military service.”