A Century of Honoring Our Veterans

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Seven years ago today, Cody Norris was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. He had joined the Army at 19 and died under enemy small-arms fire in Kandahar province. Cody was my sister-in-law’s nephew. He grew up in the Houston area but loved spending time in East Texas. We met a few times at holiday gatherings. He had followed his older brother, who graduated from West Point, into the military. Hundreds of people lined up for the funeral procession, to honor this young man who paid the ultimate sacrifice. The sanctuary was overflowing. Medals were presented to his parents. Two cranes were parked at the cemetery entrance, a huge American flag suspended between them. At the cemetery, three flags were presented to the family. A photo of Cody in his BDUs with a small plaque marking his name and service is prominent in our family homes. Cody will not be forgotten.


Two days from now we will mark Veterans Day and honor all who served. This solemn day began 99 years ago as Armistice Day, to mark the end of World War I in 1918. That war was then called the Great War, the “war to end all wars.” There is a bitter irony to that now, a century later. In 1954, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day to honor all veterans.

The last veteran of World War I died in 2012 at the age of 110. That four-year conflict killed 20 million people and wounded another 21 million. The second war to end all wars, World War II began a scant two decades later. At its conclusion, according to the National World War II Museum, 60 million soldiers and civilians were dead and another 25 million were wounded.

The ranks of World War II veterans are thinning quickly. According to the museum’s web site, just under a half-million of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2018. Nearly 350 World War II American veterans die each day. Their stories are quickly fading, which is why efforts to preserve their oral histories, collect war letters and other memorabilia are so important. We must not forget the sacrifices they made, even as World War II, unfortunately, fades in our collective memories.


My dad served in the Navy during the Korean War as a radar operator on the U.S.S. Norris, a destroyer, for three years, one month and four days. He enlisted in St. Louis after graduating from high school in Willow Springs, Missouri, and went to Radarman School in Norfolk, Virginia, where his pay grade was $300 a month. By the time he left the service in July 1954, he had received a $100 raise and four medals related to his service in the waters off Korea during that conflict.

My dad joined the Navy out of patriotism and to see the world — and that he did. The Norris sailed a peacetime mission through the Mediterranean and then was sent through the Suez Canal to Korea. He saw combat but always downplayed the experience, pointing out the relative safety of life on a destroyer when compared to that of infantrymen fighting in the bitter cold of a Korean winter.

I don’t remember my dad ever venturing an opinion about the Korean War. He just served his time and came home. He was grateful for the GI Bill, which paid for college and helped finance our homes, first in New Hampshire and then in Texas.

That commitment to service is what millions of veterans have done and continue to do. We are grateful for their patriotism and salute them as once again we observe Veterans Day.

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