November 11, 1964
Brooke here reporting from Hollyhill, Kentucky. It’s Veterans Day. We
had to go to school anyway, but Dad did a special issue of the Banner
with stories from some of the veterans. Mr. Haskins who served in World
War I was more than ready to share his stories about serving in France.
Of course, I’d heard most of them already. When the sun’s shining, Mr. Haskins likes to sit on
the bench out on the Courthouse yard where he can see the WW I monument, and whenever I’d get tired of hanging around the newspaper office, I’d go down there to sit on the ground and listen to his stories.
Sometimes he’d tell them to me and sometimes another old soldier would be there talking to him. Those were the best times because they’d forget I was listening and tell it straight without softening the stories for my young ears. They’d talk about going “over the top” into “no man’s land” and how the mud in the trenches was so bad it could swallow a soldier’s boots. A soldier without his boots was as good as dead, they’d say and shake their heads. Sometimes they’d start rubbing the toes of their work shoes as though to make sure they still had on good shoes.
Dad’s a veteran too. He served in World War II. He was in a submarine, but I told you that already a few months ago. That’s where he got the call to be a preacher. All that happened before I was born, but I like to hear about that too even though I’ve heard that story a zillion times. But some stories never get old.
That’s how it must be to Mr. Haskins and Mr. Brown. It’s like they need to have the words of their stories out in the air now that they’re getting old. Mr. Haskins says he doesn’t want everybody to forget that first World War. He said that was supposed to be the war that ended all wars. He’d felt real good going to fight for that. Figured even if he got killed, it would be worth it to never have any other wars. But then World War II came along and it started all over again. And then Korea right on the heels of it.
I went down to see if Mr. Haskins was on his bench today after school. He was, but Mr. Brown wasn’t. So Mr. Haskins was sitting all alone staring at the stone memorial with the names on it of the Holly County men who didn’t make it home from that first World War. I just sat there beside him for a while. It was a nice day for November, sunny and in the sixties. But Mr. Haskins looked like he might be shivering even though he had on a thick wool sweater.
After a while he looked at me and nodded like I’d asked him a question when I hadn’t said a word. Then he said, “Don’t you never forget to remember Armistice Day.”
“I thought it was Veterans Day,” I said.
“Started out Armistice Day. President Eisenhower changed it to Veterans Day after the other wars.” He shook his head and his eyes got shiny like he might cry. “Don’t matter what they call it. Not so long as you remember.”
And I guess he’s right. I surprised him and gave his hand a quick squeeze. “I won’t forget what you and Mr. Brown and all the others did,” I told him. Then I went back to the newspaper office and gave Dad a hug too. Maybe someday Dad will be ready to tell me about his war when he’s older and I am too. Because Mr. Haskins is right. I need to remember.