Friday, November 9, 2001
A different kind of Veterans Day
As Veterans Day approaches, it's important to remember how this holiday came about. On November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed to end World War I after four years of bitter fighting. The next year, November 11 was set aside as Armistice Day to pay tribute to those soldiers who died during that war. In 1938, Armistice Day became a legal holiday.
By 1950, after the Second World War, there was a change in attitude and the day was designated as a time to pay tribute to all those who had served in the nation's armed forces. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill specifying that Armistice Day would henceforth be known and commemorated as Veterans Day.
On this Veterans Day, 2001, as we confront a different kind of enemy in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, I find certain thoughts and memories coming to mind: flags flying all across Carlisle in support of the war effort; Carlisle men being called to active duty; children and their families marching to raise money for the families of the firefighters and police who lost their lives in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center; Memorial Day celebrations in Corey Auditorium when veterans Howard Hensleigh, Tony Mariano, Norman Fredkin, John Saphier and others spoke of serving in the military in wars past.
And how can I forget that wonderful Mosquito photograph taken by Lois d'Annunzio in 1994 of the men from Carlisle who went off to fight in the Second World Warthe late Ralph Metivier, Irvin Puffer, Francis Booth, Ole Nelson and Everett Laphamassembled on the Carlisle Green in celebration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day?
Veterans Day is all about remembering. We will never forget the men and women who have gone off to serve their country in times of war.
Resonant dates pile up like leaves. September 11th. December 7th.
Then there's today, November 9th. The resonance is mostly personal.
November 9, 1995. Pinellas Park, Florida. A thin, intense 66-year-old man steps off the Greyhound bus into a mild, sub-tropical dusk. Dick Duchaney, old friend, retired cop, sports coach, restless, itinerant bachelor, has come to visit. We drive west in rush hour's river of red tail lights toward the Gulf beaches and my rented house at Indian Shores. Dick is finely tuned to the world, sensitive, faith-filled, good company. On our drive, I remind him of the date and of things that happened on this day in our old Dorchester neighborhood, and in the world.
November 9, 1960. Bostonian JFK was elected President in the early hours. Dick lived a mile away in the house where he was born. At my 91-year-old house, the carpenter was punching a hole in the living room for a stylish new window. Barely 14, I was disoriented by the chill autumn air, harsh sunlight and 91-year-old dust rushing into my childhood cloister, transforming it forever.
I was still smelling that dust at dinner time when we all stepped out into the early darkness to admire the new window's warm glow. Then we noticed a commotion down by the school a bus pulled over, a crowd gathered in the roadway. My father and brothers went to investigate. Soon, there were sirens. It was the Dwyer kid. Six years old. Coming from Aggie's Variety with his older brother, he'd darted out. My 20-year-old brother Ron, seeing there was no hope, intercepted the boy's mother as she ran through the schoolyard. Later, he sat silent and stricken at the dinner table.
Reminded of that moment, Dick Duchaney, next to me in the car, is also stricken. The Dwyer kid's eyes, he remembers, were big and brown, like a fawn's.
In the dark at Indian Shores, we walk the beach for five miles as the moon rises. I remind Dick of the dark moments of November 9, 1965. Truly dark moments.
Our kitchen light dimmed, then died. Out that big living room window, I saw darkened street lights. "All the way to Niagara Falls," said a neighbor who offered candles. It was the Great Northeast Blackout. Manhattan had vanished before astonished pilots' eyes. Dick Duchaney, working as a cop, saw minimum looting, people pulling together bright moments in the darkness.
November 9, 1966, another bright moment a son born to my brother Ron who, six years before, absorbed a mother's terrible grief.
I thought of all this at Dick Duchaney's funeral this September as his sister and her fellow Missionaries of St. Francis sang at his graveside on a brilliantly sunny Friday. Dust to dust.
Four days later, terror struck. The world's cloister was punctured like an old wall. Dust filled Manhattan. Dust and darkness.
And I saw that tall, sensitive, familiar man greeting me again in the mild sub-tropical dusk.
I miss him this November 9th.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito