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Growing up in Louisa – Memories of War!  

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

Timing is everything when you write a weekly column. My selection of topics are often written on or around the special events that pop up on our calendars. I doubt that’s a surprise, given the topics. After all, it’s is usually the special events that we most easily remember. Those faded pictures are often tied to meaningful events, and seasons, whether good or bad. Because this column is entitled, “Growing Up in Louisa” I have tried to frame these memories to those particular early years and regardless of the overall subject explored, tie them somehow to that time. Calendars of my day were printed on paper, often with advertisements, such as Young Funeral Home, or pretty pictures displaying what we might experience during the featured month. Now, I use a much more modern Outlook calendar that raises my attention to planned events, holidays, and that very necessary ‘day of the week,’ reminders. Today’s has whispered to me that it is Veterans Day. This presents me with a problem because my best memories on the subject came after those narrowly focused years of my growing up. It isn’t that I didn’t do some ‘growing up’ after I had enlisted in the Air Force. To be sure, I certainly did a lot of maturing in those years. You can bet I have some neat ‘war stories,’ not directly involving combat, but nonetheless instructive or just plain fun.

Turning back to those early days the first encounter I recall dealing with veterans, wasn’t called ‘Veterans Day.’ It was Armistice Day until just about the time I became a teenager. It was in 1954, when it changed to the current name.  Prior to that, the holiday was to honor the signing of the armistice of the (First) World War in 1918. I do remember that some of the old soldiers would gather on Armistice Day up and down Madison, and around ‘town corner’ at Main Cross. Those World War veterans dressed out sometimes in uniforms that had wrapped leggings with drab green, wooly, stiff fabric that would make you itch just seeing it. They displayed marksmanship metals and others kinds, including victory and theater ribbons. My mom pointed out to me an old man that was wearing a Purple Heart metal and some other kinds that showed he had seen combat. I shook hands with several old codgers and wore a red flower they pinned to my shirt. Everyone smiled and was happy, but few memories linger and the details are in a fog.

I do remember soldiers from the Second World War marching in parades, but I can’t be sure if it was a July 4th event, or one performed in honor of Veteran’s Day. I know that in grade school the teachers made a strong point of how we owed those men and women who served to ensure our freedom. While growing up, I heard a few war stories here and there, but those memories are fading quickly as I confuse the movies and documentaries I’ve seen with the first-hand stories. All each of us has are some mementos, scrap books (if we’re lucky), the granite and marble monuments sprinkled about, history books, and a very few oral records by those who saw action by ‘serving in the trenches.’

Over the last two hundred years the weapons and nature of war have made dramatic changes. Charges of the light Calvary changed to trench warfare with chemical weapons and automatic weapons. Then came armored divisions and better artillery, and ending with atomic blasts. After that it was guerilla tactics in the jungle, and finally terrorist attacks on the innocent. Regardless, countless good men and women with honorable motives have died on our behalf. Others have been wounded. Some wounds show, others ride in the recesses of thought. Sounds, smells, or other things trigger nightmares of the past. How one can experience the scenes of the Holocaust and not shiver is beyond me.      

 My wife’s great uncle was there on ‘D-Day’, June 6, 1944. He reluctantly sat and told me about the battles all the way to the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ and on to Germany. Many of his unit did not survive. While this wasn’t a memory of my ‘growing up years,’ it happened during my lifetime. They were deemed the Greatest Generation, by writers, and given recognition in many, many movies and documentaries (I still watch them). They certainly deserve our thanks and respect. So do those who fought the ‘police action’ in Korea, as support troops in Viet Nam, Laos, and those who fought in the Mideast during two wars and continue to fight and die there. The names of many young people from Lawrence County are on the lists of those killed in wars, or listed as missing. As I have mentioned, some were lucky, and returned home wondering why they weren’t killed. Many felt guilty that a friend next to them gave the ultimate sacrifice, but somehow they survived and returned to their families. Wounds of war are more than those inflected by bullets, shrapnel, Agent Orange, or other munitions, but are a problem they still relive in the quiet of lonely nights. Such are the horrors of war. What is seen, experienced, or feared all carry a cost. I think it was Sherman that said that “War is hell.” Indeed, it is. Seeing the innocent hurt or killed, knowing that the enemy ahead that is waiting in ambush, puts no value on life. They kill without discretion or guilt, thinking it as just. That is hard to fathom, as it is an insane dogma, but we have just seen something akin in America.

Whether a church in Texas or a concert in Vegas, it makes no sense to us. In the past, it was our soldiers that suffered in war and carried the memories of violence. It has come home, folks. We are nearing the place that where we cannot expect to be safe by the efforts of the few. Today, we must stand ready to fight and perhaps die for the freedoms and the lives of those we love. In this way, we are all becoming veterans, a broader ‘Band of Brothers,’ trying to save lives in hope of a future like we knew, growing up. In recognition of that, our first-responders, our military, and those brave citizens who return fire and protect, all deserve our salute and our full support because today, we all walk in harm’s way.

When they hand my wife that folded American flag, and play taps for me, I want her to stand proud, not for anything I did, but for what so many good people have done for me. While I grew up and lived a good life, others died so I could. Whether they worked in a mailroom, on a train, in the air, on the sea, or in the trenches, they have contributed in building the greatest nation on earth. On this day, and many other days like this one, I pause to remember. It is the cost of freedom. I hope you take a moment and join me in this, and may the memories you have all be good ones.

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