We were young then When we heard the trumpet’s call. We were young then ‘Fore the war to end all wars. We were young then Embraced by war’s camaraderie. We were young then But saw scenes no one should see. We were young then And home was a distant dream. We were young then ‘Midst the rain and mud and screams. We were young then Remembered with a sweetheart’s tears. We were young then Now frozen in our years.
Here in the US, it’s Veterans Day. It started out as Armistice Day celebrating the end of World War I. This “war to end all wars” ushered in the era of modern horrors – poison gas, trenches, what we now know as PTSD – but without the modern medical miracles that have helped so many to survive. Over nine million soldiers died.
In the stories memorializing that day, the changes in our world are too often glossed over by saying “It was a more innocent time.” A majority of Americans lived in rural areas (e.g., 60% lived in towns of 2500 less). Though we had a standing army of nearly 200,000, the Army that fought in France was mostly draftees and volunteers. Some of the farm boys still learned to march by “Hay foot, straw foot.” About 120,000 of these young men died – half in combat, the others from disease.
It was a time of small-town small-mindedness but also of small-town love of family and community and country. A town’s churches were more than merely the place we visited on Sundays; they were the social and often the political centers of our communities. Charitable giving was done through the church; the women of the church took it upon themselves to take care of the sick and their families; the men worked together to build the community.
Many of us look wistfully back, wondering whether today’s youth would have the same innocence, the same sense of duty, the same willingness to give their all. As Viet Nam and our Middle Eastern wars have shown us, some would – but many more would not.
The same is true of our communities – some of us are taking purposeful action to strengthen our communities, but too many are not. Too many, like a subversive Fifth Column, are tearing down what has taken money and blood and lives to build. They gave their lives, but some of us cannot find five minutes to help make our own communities better places to live. They invested their lives to ensure the safety of the American Dream; some would turn that dream into a nightmare. As you celebrate this holiday of remembrance, remember what they gave and why. Remember their devotion to their communities and devote a little of your day – and the days ahead – to making your community a little better.