Veteran’s Day Parade

Piped in the St. Louis Veteran’s Day Parade today.  (Is it a Veteran’s Day Parade if it doesn’t take place on Veteran’s Day?  Would that just make it a Veteran’s Parade?)

Saw an interesting thing I don’t remember seeing previous years.  There was a guy pushing through a crowd with a big and very simple sign that said

Russian WW II

I looked at the guy carrying it, who was about my age (I would have been a Vietnam Vet if they had ‘asked’) and thought, “No, he’s not a WW II vet.”  Then the old guys showed up.  Maybe 8-10 very old gentlemen.  They would be at least in their mid-80s.  One wore a peaked cap and several wore whole chestfuls of rather gaudy medals.  Of course these guys wouldn’t have been Russian.  They would have been Soviets.  And they would have been in the Red Army.  I wonder how many of the veterans in the parade had fought the Red Army and its surrogates in Korea, Vietnam and various little advertised conflicts that flared up around the world during the Cold War.  Of course, the Red Army was on our side back then.  I enjoyed seeing them there.  First, it was a bit of a curiosity.  Kind of like the game Five Degrees of Separation From Kevin Bacon.  If you spoke to them, you would be one degree of separation away from the Easter Front.  One of the other members of the band thought what kind of stories could they tell.  The reason for all the medals was probably because they got one for each day they survived on the Eastern Front (Western Front in the Soviet’s eyes).  The Soviets lost something like 20 million men during WW II.

It wouldn’t even have bothered me if they had said “Soviet Vietnam Veterans”  (yes, they were there), I’m sure that there would have been a lot of people who would have objected, but that war is over.  It’s time to get over it.

Then I thought about how many men in St. Louis had been in the Wehrmacht.  Could the day come when they too could march as veterans here.  They did the same thing every other veteran in the world has done, forever.  Whether professional soldier or draftee, they answered the call, saluted smartly, and walked into a meatgrinder at there country’s behest.  I met a member of the Wehrmacht once.  He came from Berlin, which at the time I met him was West Berlin.  He had completed technical school shortly before the end of the war, at which point he was drafted.  And speaking of Degrees of Separation, he won a national competition while in school that was handed out by Hitler himself.  Now that’s a curiosity.
After just a few months, Germany surrendered and he was marched off to spend the next four year is Siberia…where the compatriots of the Russian WW II Veterans mentioned above entertained themselves by firing rifle shots through the walls of the barracks to see who could hit more Germans with one round.  Every side was heroic and every side did unthinkable things.  But all of those who served should be able to look at each other and say, “That was a good fight.  Glad it’s over.”  Unfortunately, I don’t think that could happen before all of those men have passed on.  Too bad.

On April 11, 1945 a Japanese kamikaze flew his airplane into the side of the USS Missouri.  No US sailors were lost (battleships are really hard), but the pilot’s broken body was found on the ship.  The Missouri’s Captain William M. Callaghan ordered the pilot, Second Class Sargent Setsuo Ishino buried at sea the next day with full military honors, as befitted a serviceman who died fighting for his country.  Two sailors sat up the night to sew together a Japanese Imperial Flag (for some reason, US Navy ships didn’t carry them).  It was a good thing, I think, that enemies can at show respect when the fight is over.  The fight was over for Ishino.

I do not foolish enough to believe that warfare will ever end.  Conflict is a part of life.  But as long as the wars end, and the troops can crawl out of their trenches and shake hands with the people they tried so desperately to kill the day before, there is hope that good days can be had.  When they can say “We were enemies.” there is hope.  There are two gentlemen, who’s names unfortunately I don’t remember, who were both at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  One was looking up at the planes.  The other was looking down at the ships.  They met after the war and became friends.  There is hope.  I know a person who, who is Jewish, who will not buy anything German or have anything to do with anything German.  That’s too bad.  Who does this person think is being punished?  How does this prevent the badness from happening again?  By promoting the very kinds of prejudices that caused them in the first place?  I dunno’.  But I have hope.

This is what those Soviet Red Army veterans walking with the American veterans made me think today.


1 comment so far

  1. […] through my WordPress dashboard, I noticed that somebody hit my old post about the 2009 Veterans Day Parade.  That got me thinking about a movie I saw about the same time, Joyeux Noël, which not only […]

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