Veterans Day

by Jeff Abbott on November 11, 2008

My wife and I just got back from the Veterans Day salute at our kids’ elementary school. It’s always a very well attended assembly. One of my favorite parts is that they play a slideshow showing photos of the veterans from the kids’ families. You see yellowed photos of great-great-grandfathers who fought in the World Wars, of people who are serving right now in Iraq and Afghanistan, of soldiers who were in for two years, of soldiers who made long-term careers.
The vets’ photos in the slideshow were played in alphabetical order per the students’ family names this year, and so ours were first. My wife’s grandfather, Hubert Kotrla, was a Pearl Harbor survivor. He was aboard the USS Bagley, a destroyer. The Bagley‘s crew saw the USS Oklahoma as it was torpedoed and capsized. The Bagley‘s crew fired on and destroyed some of the Japanese aircraft; and the ship narrowly avoided being torpedoed itself. Hubert never really talked much about Pearl Harbor. Last night, I was channel-surfing and Pearl Harbor (the 2001 film) was on AMC. I watched the attack sequence; I know the movie got a critical drubbing, but the filmmakers did not spare much in terms of the horror of that day. It was painful to watch and to think of the real hell people went through in that attack. Hubert was a kind and easy-going man, and he was not one to dwell on the suffering of the past. He passed away a few years ago, and had greatly enjoyed going to reunions of Pearl Harbor survivors. But always at the school’s salute, when Hubert’s picture is shown and “Anchors Aweigh” is played, we tear up. I really wonder if our generations appreciate the suffering and sacrifice of Hubert’s generation. I don’t think we do.
My late father was a veteran of the Air Force. He served two years, in peacetime, and he didn’t talk much about his service. But my sons were thrilled to see a picture of him, youthful, in his uniform.
Today I hope we, as Americans, can remember and honor the sacrifices made by our veterans. Every liberty we have came from their willingness to stand for what this country means at its heart–democracy, freedom, and the civilizing force of recognizing human dignity.

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