My apologies for my absence last week – I was having computer issues and have become dependent on the darn thing! Hope your Hallowe’en was a good one.
When the year turns toward winter and holidays seem to build up in an ever-louder circle of complaints about rushing the seasons, we are apt to overlook (or be rushed by) Veterans Day, which honors everyone who has fought in the armed forces. In Vermont we are more apt to celebrate Memorial Day, which one of my brothers attributes to the often lousy Vermont weather, which is not always conducive to parades, speeches, and other celebrations. He is probably right, but in my mind I see a Hassam painting of troops parading in a raging snowstorm in New York with flags flying from every structure that would support a flag. I suppose, along with having gotten increasingly more fond of comfort, we are all much further from World War I which prompted Armistice Day, the beginnings of Veteran’s Day.
When I was much younger there were still many WWI vets in our lives, and at school we always maintained a minute of silence at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. But that faded long ago, even before present day concentration on reading and math. I suppose standing in silence by one’s desk for a whole minute would be a colossal waste of time that would lead to falling test scores and all kinds of damage. Way, way back, in the olden days, we not only learned to read, we had opportunities to read in history, which may or may not have become a lost art by now. One of my favorite books at the 4th grade level contained history and folklore and adaptions of old tales. (It was not until high school that I realized I already knew the outlines of Beowulf from that long ago book.)
One of my favorite stories was from WWI. It highlighted an unusual and very small hero of the war named Cher Ami (dear friend). Cher Ami was attached to the American 77th division in October, 1918 during the Meuse -Argonne offensive, just about a month before the war ended. The division got trapped behind German lines and was soon being barraged by its own artillery behind them. Radio communications were not easily possible then, but the signal corps provided and cared for hundreds of homing pigeons for added correspondence. Cher Ami was one of those tiny messengers. Now a capsule on its leg was fitted with a frantic message for the Americans behind to stop firing on its own lost division and giving its location, and the little bird took off for its home base.
One must not suppose this was easy nor safe. The Germans knew the pigeons carried messages, and even while battles raged with other men, they made targets of the small birds. Cher Ami was wounded, but got up again and kept flying until the message was delivered. The American gunners readjusted their co-ordinates, and a few days later almost 200 survivors of the 77th were reattached to their own side.
Cher Ami did recover from wounds and returned stateside, a hero. Only one of hundreds of tiny feathered warriors, Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre by France for courage in the midst of battle. Of course the bird died long ago, and therefore is not among the honored living. But let’s give honor all the same for all the heroes large and small who have made and keep making a difference. Thank you for your service.