As I write this it is Veterans Day 2011. It’s a jumble of emotion. I went to the parade in Sag Harbor this morning to pay respect. There are fewer World War II vets today, more young vets. Soon there will probably be more women in the ranks. Today is a sad day, but a proud day in America.
When I was very young the sound of gunshot was common. Usually the sound of a shot meant that a neighbor had just taken a deer. But sometimes the shots were very loud and in a steady volley. When I heard the cadence of this studied shooting, I knew to look out my bedroom window. From there I could see the small country cemetery just up the road where old soldiers were seeing to the burial of another World War One comrade.
“The Great War” had spared this one, for a time. The gun salute was the powerful prelude to the mournful Taps.
Old men stood tall and strong, if only for a little while. They joked about their shooting afterward. They clapped each others’ backs and shook hands. Nobody hugged.
My mother told me that when she was a girl she thought that all old men lost a limb or an eye as a matter of course. It appeared to her that old men were maimed men. We grew up in the same farmhouse 21 years apart, so some of the same heroes passed through our lives.
I was taught to find my great grandfather George Woodruff’s face in the long photograph of his World War I company. I stared at old men looking for any resemblance to that handsome young man in the photo. I never knew Grandpa Woodruff, but I missed him.
My grandfathers John Maus and Robert Dermont did not fight in World War II. One was a farmer and a welder so he continued to work stateside. The other captained ships that carried steel across the Great Lakes for the Merchant Marine.
Cousin Danny Maus was a prisoner of war for two long years. He was kept in the flooded basement of a bombed-out house in Bulgaria. He still has trouble with his legs due to all that time spent in the water—but he never talks about what the prisoners did to their keeper when they finally escaped.
Uncle John Maus served during the Vietnam Conflict. At the time I thought hippies were cool but Uncle John was the coolest. When the tallest man in the family tossed me up onto his shoulders, all was right in my world.
John’s son Travis piloted a Black Hawk helicopter in and out of Kuwait. Now he’s back to serving as a police officer in Florida.
Soldiers are made to see and feel and smell and do things that define inhumanity. But democracy itself is borne on the backs of the dead and the maimed. So, for my own life and liberty, I am grateful to those who serve.
View Stacy Dermont’s images of the Sag Harbor Veteran’s Day parade online at www.danshamptons.com.