A time to remember, offer thanks to vets
Veterans Day always leaves me in a contemplative mood.
Growing up in a house with my grandfather, a World War II veteran and longtime member of the VFW, I don’t remember a time when I haven’t attended a Veterans Day ceremony somewhere.
Most follow the same format, featuring some sort of parade, a few speakers, a rifle salute and scores of people all ages, gathered to pay tribute to those who served — and still serve — our great nation.
As a child, I would accompany my grandfather, Robert Walker — decked out in his seldom-worn VFW hat — to the Mississippi County courthouse in Charleston, Mo., joining the crowd of onlookers, paying rapt attention to the speakers, covering my ears when the rifles fired and covering my heart as the bugle played “Taps” in memory of those who went to war and didn’t come back.
My grandfather often told stories about his time in the Army and the friends he made. Serving in an engineering company, he didn’t see much combat — in fact, he told me that after arriving in Europe, he often didn’t even carry his rifle. Well, at least until then-Lt. Gen. George S. Patton took command of the Third Army in France.
Grandpa landed on the Normandy beach several days after D-Day. He always told me the only people behind his unit were the grave registration companies.
Serving in the rear left him plenty of opportunities to make memories appropriate to share with a wide-eyed kid raised on “Hogan’s Heroes” and old movies like “The Longest Day,” “Guns of the Navarone” and “Bridge over the River Kwai.”
One of my favorites involved a young lieutenant, a truckload of radio tubes, a weekend pass to Paris and a hotel room rented for a Hershey bar. Another detailed the common trade between members of his unit and the French girls they met, who did the unit’s laundry and traded eggs and fresh milk in exchange for soap and other items.
He came back, alive and whole. Not all veterans were that lucky.
Veterans Day always puts me in mind of one of them, a family member and a fixture in my life, despite his absence.
For several years, I was able to observe Veterans Day by visiting Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial in Perryville, Mo., which includes a full-sized, exact replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, along with a museum and other monuments honoring our nation’s veterans.
The wall was completed in May 2019 and later that year, I got the chance to spend Veterans Day at the Memorial.
The mood was contemplative and the voices hushed as visitors made their way down the wall, searching for the names of friends and family, often pointing them out to children and grandchildren.
Sometimes they shared stories of the good times. Other times, they seemed lost in memory.
As always, I stopped at Panel 3E and found line 80, where the name of a great uncle I never got the chance to meet is listed among the tens of thousands who lost their lives in Vietnam.
Dale Francis Hudson was born Nov. 20, 1938, in Poplar Bluff, Mo. Drafted into the Army, he served as an SP4, light weapons infantry, 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, B Company.
He died Nov. 17, 1965, near LZ Albany, Ia Drang Valley, Pleiku Province, South Vietnam.
That place and date might sound familiar to some. The movie “We Were Soldiers,” based on the book We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and journalist Joseph L. Galloway details that battle, the first major engagement between U.S. forces and the North Vietnamese.
Dale was a soldier, but he was also much more.
Dale was my grandmother’s baby brother. He was killed three days before his 27th birthday, six years before I was born. His daughter, my mom’s cousin, was just a baby.
“If I were able to have one thing in my life, it would be to speak to the man I never knew,” she wrote some years ago on VirtualWall.org. “To know the man he was and to have the knowledge of the man he could have been. To be able to say ‘I love you, Dad.’ ”
There’s undoubtedly more to this man, things I’ll never know. All I have are the stories my grandmother told me and a few pictures in dusty old albums.
I wish I’d gotten to know him. The least I can do is keep his memory alive.
Thank you to all the veterans who served our country, both in war and peace. Some served by choice, others by obligation. Some were drafted and some were just seeking a better life.
Most of them were affected by their time in uniform, some for better, others for worse. Some carry scars — mental and physical — as permanent reminders. All of them have stories and memories. Some are funny. Others are too painful to share.
On Nov. 11, take the time to honor these men and women, let them know they are not forgotten, even if we don’t understand.
Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you.
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Robert Cox is a reporter and page designer for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CCNnews@cox-internet.com.