PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

November 12, 2012

A day of thanks to My Heroes

Kent Conwell
The Port Arthur News

PORT NECHES — Well, the elections are over, but I don’t want to talk about them today. Instead, let’s talk about those heroes who have given us the freedom to have elections.

Now, I always enjoy the holidays. The richness of our national celebrations add to the fabric of our lives.

The blessings of Thanksgiving, the gaiety and joy of Christmas, the holiness of Easter, the exuberance of July 4 are all important to me, but the one holiday very precious is Veterans’ Day because so many in my family, as in hundreds of thousands of others, have shouldered the arms of war and went out to do battle to preserve the freedom we all now enjoy.

November 11 is the anniversary of the Armistice, which was signed in 1918 in the forest of Compiegne by the Allies and the Germans “bringing a halt” to World War I. At five a.m. that morning, an order to cease all firing was issued. Arms were lowered, whistles blew, impromptu parades erupted, and business closed in celebration.

You’ll notice in the preceding paragraph the quotation marks around bringing to a halt. And that’s exactly what the Armistice did, but contrary to what the majority believe, it was not a proclamation of Germany’s surrendering, but rather a truce — one that lasted almost twenty-one years until Hitler made his move.

In 1938, Congress passed a bill that each November 11 would be celebrated as Armistice Day. Fifteen years later on November 11, 1953, instead of only an Armistice Day program for WWI veterans, they honored all veterans of all wars.

Ed Rees, of Emporia, was so impressed that he introduced a bill into the House to change the name to Veterans' Day.  After this passed, Mr. Rees wrote to all state governors and asked for their approval and cooperation in observing the changed holiday.  The name was changed to Veterans' Day by Act of Congress on May 24, 1954.

In October of that year, President Eisenhower called on all citizens to observe the day by remembering the sacrifices of all those who fought so gallantly. The President referred to the change of name to Veterans' Day in honor of the servicemen of all America's wars.

I served, but during peacetime, which to me doesn’t count. Many of my family served during world conflicts. My father spent a year on the west coast, a couple years in South America; a cousin served in the Army Air Corps; an uncle served in the Army, and one in the Navy. Another uncle served earlier in the Philippines, but was discharged with a blood disease that, according to oral family history, eventually took his life. Another cousin served in Korea and is still listed as a MIA after sixty years.

During the war, family gatherings were filled with empty chairs. Word always turned to those not present. I can remember seeing every eye in the family filling with tears as their innermost prayers went out to their loved ones.

We were one of the lucky families. Dad returned. My uncle in the Army returned having received a shrapnel wound on Okinawa. My uncle in the Navy made it back. My Air Force cousin returned safely. The only casualty we faced was my uncle who had served prior to the war in the Philippines.

Then five years later, another cousin, Henry Shoop, whom we always called Dooley, shipped out to Korea.

We never saw him again. We never heard a word of his fate. All we know is he went out on patrol one night. The patrol was attacked. None returned, and no bodies were found.

You might remember Dooley from some of my other stories about growing up in the country. My main tormentor, he was about six years older than me. Dooley was the one who hauled a box of damp cow patties up on the roof of the Papa Holley’s milk shed and bombarded my cousin Ed and me.

We got him back later though when we cornered him under the windmill and let loose with Roman candles.

I just checked the MIA database a couple days back, and Henry G.’Dooley’ Shoop, Sgt. U.S. Army, MIA since 1952, is still one of the thousands of our men and women who have yet be accounted for.

I look around now at our brave men and women going into harm’s s way for America, and I want to cry out of compassion and pride. I know the families of those serving realize just how dear the sacrifice our military is making, but I wonder about the rest of America. Do they understand?

If they don’t, they should drop to their knees and pray the understanding be given them.

Kent Conwell of Port Neches is a retired educator. Contact him at rconwell@gt.rr.com. Conwell blogs at kentconwell.blogspot.com.