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Wednesday, November 11, 2009
HAPPY VETERANS DAY
by Richard Cochrane
November 11, 2009

The Sergeant was a hero in the tiny West Virginia town where I grew up. On Armistice Day, as my grandparents insisted on calling Veteran’s Day, there was a parade led by a solitary figure in an ill-fitting Marine uniform limping just behind an honor guard with flags waving. Behind him came other men in caps festooned with medals and such shouldering rifles as they solemnly struggled to stay in step. The Union High School band would march stone-faced playing something patriotic and generally in tune. The whole thing was herded by a glistening white fire truck that was the pride of the local volunteer fire department. Eventually they all arrived at the cemetery at the north edge of town where other men talked and the rifles cracked sending me and other boys scrambling for the prized spent cartridges, and then it as over except for a cook-out at one relative’s house or the other, and the obligatory visit to each pair of grandparents.
There would be the stories of Uncle Charlie who had been gassed at Verdun, and was never quite right since; the “Hatch boy” who disappeared somewhere in the Pacific before I was born, and of the Sergeant himself who left his leg on someplace named Guadalcanal and who will forever march at the head of the parade.
Soon the men clustered in assorted chairs out back under a cloud of tobacco smoke and talk turned to the upcoming high school football game. The women disappeared into the kitchen to do God knew what. My cousins and I debated what game to play or just argued and fought over nothing.
As I look back it was as close to Mayberry as any boy could get. But, I expect it was a variation of ten thousand other towns. Another page was turned on an America that would never change but has.
The town’s still there; the high school’s been “consolidated”, and the people are almost all dead or gone – I’m told there are 1,800 souls there now – even the white fire truck has been retired to sit silently in honor.
It is all about honor and remembrance.
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