A Salute to Our Veterans

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Last week, the final World War II Normandy Invasion veteran in Halifax County passed away. For years, we have witnessed veterans of that generation passing from the scene. For much of that time, I have encouraged children and grandchildren to speak to those veterans and their families to better understand what they went through in those challenging years. In just a few more years, there will be no more stories to be told firsthand about that war.

My father-in-law was probably typical. He was one of the soldiers who fought on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. He never talked to his family about what happened during that invasion nor the battles that followed. In fact, my wife knew little of that part of his life. When he learned that I was from Bedford County, he had a new interest in that part of his life. It turns out that as a raw recruit he was assigned to the 29th Division. The division, prior to the war, had armories in much of our region, one of those was in Bedford. During the years and after the depression, many of our young man joined the Guard to have some income. When the war began, those in these units became the NCOs that were matched with new recruits from the Northeast. This was the origin of the nickname of the division known as the “Blue and Gray.”

Korean and Vietnam troops

Those World War II troops returned to marching bands and cheering crowds. Not so for those who followed returning troops from Korea and Vietnam. Korea was never declared a war. Without a declaration of war, there was no victory to celebrate. There were fewer crowds and marching bands. Our troops simply returned to their communities and built businesses and raised families.

Those returning from Vietnam not only had no bands but often were yelled at as baby killers. Those that went over were caught between political forces in Washington, torn between leaving or staying, between winning and running. Our troops were expected to follow orders while those in Washington gave mixed directions. I remember we were told to avoid wearing our uniforms in public to avoid controversy with those who sometimes spat at those in uniform. This was not our nation’s brightest time.

However, no matter where our troops have fought, they deserve the respect of our nation. The lucky ones returned, the less lucky ones did not. Some returned with wounds and scars with which they have had to live. Each had fathers and mothers, some had wives, children, and brothers and sisters who had to wait and hope that those in battle were safe or even alive. Meanwhile, those in faraway lands had to hope that their families were intact, their homes and businesses safe.

Returning troops in every war come back to an uncertain world. The home they left, the job they held, the ones they loved, in each case life continued without them. Nothing stays the same. They changed overseas and that to which they returned changed. Children have grown, spouses have learned to cope, parents have gotten older.

Clearly there are reasons why these returning troops want to put war behind themselves, focus on the future, and not burden their families. However, at the right time their stories must be recorded in the family history.

Frank Ruff represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@verizon.net.