Editor’s Desk

Column: Most important holiday is coming

November 6, 2013 

Confession time. I’ve never been in the Army. Never served in the Navy. Never flown for the Air Force or shouted the hoorah of the Marines.

But I love Veterans Day and I make it a point not to miss the chance to attend a Veterans Day service. There are plenty going on around the area today and tomorrow. If you could see me now, you’d see me on my knees, begging you to find one to attend in your community. Without fail, the services are short, sincere, meaningful and, well, poorly attended.

Though I never served, I’m grateful enough to those who have that I think it’s worth a little bit of my time each Veterans Day to attend a ceremony and speak to a few veterans. Many of the veterans who attend these ceremonies tend to be World War II veterans, Korean War vets or, as time goes by, a few more Vietnam War veterans. Others who served during peacetime or in some of our nation’s more recent wars haven’t tended to participate as much. Perhaps the experience wasn’t that memorable for peacetime veterans, maybe the horrible memories of war are too recent to reopen for veterans who fought in conflicts in places like Afghanistan or Iraq.

Regardless of which class of veterans attend these ceremonies, there is always an interesting story to be told and, for me, to be heard.

I count among my friends some people who have served in war and, thankfully, are willing to talk about it. I have family members who served in war and didn’t live to tell about it and other family members who don’t want to talk about it. I suspect if you think about the people you know, you’d find people who fit all those categories too.

There have been a few seminal moments for me around veterans.

Several years ago, I got to know a man named Dorsey Daniels who served during World War II and became a leader in the American Legion’s Boys State program. He was such a passionate advocate of the program and he used to come in my office on fire about the program. He railed against local politicians who didn’t bother to take the time to attend a 30-minute Veterans Day observance. You could tell from his words, his face, heck, his whole demeanor that service to country was important to him and that he wanted others to know its value too.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a welcome-home ceremony for veterans who had been flown to Washington in an effort to get veterans to the capital to see the new World War II memorial. My friend, Clayton Whitley, was among those who took the trip. Among the throngs on hand to welcome the planeload of veterans back to Raleigh-Durham International Airport were his children and grandchildren. I got the sense from watching them that night that they were as proud of him as they could possibly be. It was a feeling I shared even though I’m not Clayton’s blood kin.

For his part, Clayton seemed to enjoy the welcome home, but I think he enjoyed the chance to see the memorial just as much. Clayton is justifiably proud of the time he spent in the Merchant Marines. Even now, at 80-something, his eyes light up when he talks about the experience. He remembers remarkable details and he weaves them into wonderful stories.

So – begging again, here – get out of your house this Veterans Day. Find an observance and listen to the stories a veteran has to tell. It is so worth it.

jwhitfield@newsobserver.com

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