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As Long as We Remember...

November 11, 2012

VETERANS DAY: Honoring Sons and Daughters

Norman M. Covert

[Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from a speech presented to the Rotary Club of Frederick, Nov. 7, 2012. The annual Veterans Day Program at Memorial Grounds Park is scheduled to begin today at 2 P.M. At 1:35, a group of 18 brass players will present Echo Taps along Market Street, the last stanza played at the park prior to opening of the ceremony.]


I was asked to share some thoughts about this Veterans Day and those who have borne the battle in defense of liberty.


For centuries naïve privates have been the butt of jokes often referred to as “cannon fodder.”


British Lt. Bruce Bairnsfather spent hours in Belgian’s No-Man’s Land during World War I. He created “’Arry,” with mud-covered pipe, wearing a Balaclava and “Wellies,” impervious to shells screaming over head.


Lieutenant Bairnsfather’s drawings gave the home front a look at the miseries and indomitable spirit of the British soldier.


In the 1920s, Stan Laurel was the perpetual misfit. In the movie, “Block-Heads,” an oblivious Stan is found patrolling the trenches 20 years after the end of the war. His reunion with Ollie Hardy results in chaos.


Comedians Bud Abbott and his foil Lou Costello were provided abundant material with the military buildup for World War II.


This was comedy in a time when war was war, not at all funny.


America mobilized in support of its warriors. We bought War Bonds; women accepted trades work to build the tools of war; homes were opened to war workers and spouses near military installations. In Frederick the United Service Organization (USO) hosted dances, social events and quiet places to write letters home.


Frederick could not do enough to support them and their sacrifices.


Some 8.2 million men and women were in uniform at the end of World War II. Frederick also dealt with a new community of soldiers and civilians working in the secrecy that was Camp Detrick.


Humor took the sting off the pain and fear of those at home as well as those in uniform. Comedian Bob Hope paraded beautiful actresses on makeshift camp stages, “This is what you are fighting for!”


Private “Sad Sack,” appeared in “Yank” magazine in 1942. Drawn by George Baker, “Sad Sack” was depicted peeling potatoes or pearl diving in the pots and pans sink. He also was used as the foil for War Department “How to” movies including: rifle and rifle marksmanship, map reading, first aid, and identifying the enemy.


Sgt. Bill Mauldin, of the 45th Infantry Division, created Willy and Joe for the unit newspaper after it arrived in Sicily. They endured rain, mud, artillery, snipers, and non-commissioned officers. In one series they enter a Rest and Recuperation Center where an MP cites them for not wearing neckties or shined boots. They turn and head back to the front.


Cartoonist Mort Walker drew on the military misfit comedy genre to create Beetle Bailey, the ultimate lazy soldier. He endures today getting the best of Sgt. Snorkle and General Halftrack, while schmoozing with the General’s secretary, Miss Blips.


Movie goers to the Empire, Opera House, Frederick and Tivoli theaters saw the horrors of World War II and Korea through Pathé Newsreels, narrated by Lowell Thomas.


The 1964 escalation of war in Southeast Asia brought battalions of print and electronic media churning out footage of jungle firefights.


Reporters today are embedded with military units. Cable news channels broadcast instant reports during the Iraq War by satellite. War was viewed in its fearsome aspect.


The media rarely ventures into the forbidding interior of Afghanistan for such reports, so we only get the casualty reports.

A chasm separates those who forget the warriors in their anti-war zeal and those trying to give aid and comfort to troops coming home without arms and legs.


Our wounded warriors are also burdened by broken marriages, high incidences of suicide, and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). At one time we called it shell shock, then battle fatigue.


The reality of PTSD recently manifested itself in a friend, who had a violent flashback to the 1968 Khe Sahn perimeter, South Vietnam, where he spent more than 77 days in combat.


There is no humor in that!


Local veteran’s organizations support the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda, where combat veterans are treated for devastating wounds.


There are more than 100,000 active and reserve component military personnel serving in Afghanistan; we have 52,000 in Germany; 35,000 in Japan; and 28,000 in Korea.


Maryland has lost 39 of its sons in Afghanistan.


U. S. Army Sergeant First Class Lance Vogeler was killed in action in Kandahar Province in October 2012. I knew him as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout in Pack and Troop 799. He earned his Eagle Scout badge. Lance also was impressive as a second-grade Bobcat interpreting for his hearing-impaired mother.


In August we mourned the loss of 24-year-old Sgt. David Williams, a Tuscarora High School graduate. He also was killed in action in Kandahar Province.


Vietnam service was limited to 12-month tours, although many career soldiers and Marines served more than one tour. Today’s regular rotations to the war zone are daunting, especially for Reserve Component members, who bear more than half the load in the War on Terrorism.


Many employers have had to hire replacements employees. They are represented locally with Company A, 115th Infantry (MdARNG) and Bravo Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. Fort Detrick also has a revolving door for medical materiel personnel being deployed to the war zone.


Join me in determining to honor our veterans today, including those who sacrificed their lives. Consider the losses of an Eagle Scout and a former athlete; both perhaps were destined to achieve success; they may have become community leaders; they may have been parents of children who would serve our community and nation. They have served us faithfully.


Soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, Coast Guardsman, Merchant Mariner – this former G.I. salutes you.


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