Harriet Freiberger: When words fail … first, there’s war, next armistice and then, veterans
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Veterans Day touches all Americans, but this community has a special place in its history for the soldiers who are our own. When Steamboat Springs began taking shape between and after two world-wide wars, veterans of those wars formed a nucleus that expanded afterward with every American military engagement. Their future became our present.
American soldiers stand at the ready around a world still threatened by the fact that when words fail, war happens. Soldiers still leave, and veterans still return.
Memories abound, but the present holds us. November prompts a closeness that comes with winter’s enveloping whiteness. Sadly, as the earth’s rhythm cycles in comforting repetition, so apparently does the earth’s population repeat its ugly confrontations between nations. Danger comes ever closer. “The war to end all wars” ended 100 years ago, but war has not.
Often invisible, but evident within every aspect of their town’s development during those 100 years, men and women who have served in the military added structure and strength. Recognition of their service began when President Woodrow Wilson declared the first Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, and delegates from all 48 states met in Minneapolis for the American Legion’s first general congress.
A month earlier, Post No. 44 in Steamboat entered the organization’s ranks. It continues today, a connection that began among those men who returned, on two-week voyages back across an ocean, to become ranchers and business men, miners and merchants, husbands and fathers.
As civilians, they became leaders, first during a flu epidemic that brought death in numbers that felt like wartime; then, during a nationwide financial depression that made nickels and dimes feel like gold and finally, through a second world-wide conflagration. Then, in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq and around the globe: war has not ended. When Routt County schools observe Veterans Day, boys and girls recognize the uniform worn by their parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, friends and teachers.
In the U.S., more than 21 million veterans live among our population of over 320 million, more than 1,200 here in Routt County. So many, but who are they? Why have they fought? Who are the rest of us — who have not? Do we have enemies?
Monday, Nov. 11, at assemblies, elementary school children begin edging toward such questions that will certainly clarify on the widening roadway ahead. First and second graders, jostling and chattering, follow their teachers into the auditorium that magnifies their smallness. Waving to parents already seated, the youngsters sit easily on the floor, surrounding tightly lined up rows of chairs, and then they notice the group of men and women who sit, attentive and quiet, unfamiliar.
Suddenly, the mood changes as the older children file in, almost in marching cadence. There is something bigger. A “come to order” follows flag bearers and a stunning silence precedes the Pledge of Allegiance, drawing everyone present into the impact of this day. Students, standing upon risers at the front of the expansive room, begin the program, but focus turns to the unrecognized visitors, many in uniform. Slowly, each child realizes who those people are — a friend’s grandfather who was a Marine, a mother who flew airplanes to rescue injured soldiers, a father who worked in an atomic submarine.
Voices, pictures and music tell of veterans and of war. The day’s honored guests stand a little straighter upon hearing the tribute “These children are yours; they are the future you have fought for.” Veterans meet the eyes of the retiring color guard and smile. Fifth graders wait after the program ends, pause, then reach up to touch a veteran’s arm or clasp an extended hand. Connection strengthens. Our future will be their present.
Home is the beginning, and then the becoming, of who one is. When soldiers return from war, home becomes the beginning of the rest of their lives. We are honored to have them in ours.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River valley since 1982. Her husband “Fry” served in the U.S.Navy from 1956 to 1958.
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