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We're forever indebted to Greatest Generation

When I think of Veterans Day, I mentally snap to "a-ten-hut" for my mom and dad. They're vets of "the big one," World War II.

My dad left his small-town Indiana home in the summer of 1941 to enlist, so he was already in uniform when America got involved, and he stayed in it throughout. Well, he changed into clean uniforms once in while. I hope.

While my dad was cultivating a taste for Army food, my mom was helping in all the ways that a teenage schoolgirl could. She assisted my grandpa with his duties as a block warden, she finished her compulsory education, she conserved and rationed. And she prayed.

Dad spent almost two years on the island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific. A couple of years ago, I finally memorized the dates that dad was overseas. He reached New Caledonia on April 21, 1942, the day after his 20th birthday.

I figure the other end of the equation is one of the most important days of my life, even though it was 4,860 days before I was born. He headed home on April 1, 1944. I imagine he didn't fool around that April Fools' Day.

Something tells me that on the voyage home, he didn't foresee a future that would bring him a college degree (on the GI Bill), marriage to a co-ed from a nearby small college (58 years and counting) and long careers for both of them in elementary and high school education, including their own "continuing education" at the hands of their five children.

Having referenced my dad's birth date, some of you scholars out there might have noticed it's the same as Hitler's. Yes, that Hitler. Thankfully, my dad long outlasted Hitler and can still celebrate April 20, thanks in part to the monumental heroism the Greatest Generation displayed on my mom's birthday, June 6. (D-Day, for those needing a reminder.)

My siblings and I pay close attention when mom and dad remember their war years. Their experiences and feelings about those times could fill a book. My siblings and I have offered to help them write it, on one condition: They must overcome the serious modesty problem that's plagued them all their lives.

In today's look-at-me culture, their story -- about two quiet, stalwart, salt-of-the-earth lives -- lacks the necessary hyperbolically hyped hype. But nobody can ever get them to brag. Except about their eight grandsons.

My parents love to read, and they have scores of books about World War II. I was very fond of one of them when I was a kid. It's called "Up Front." It's a book of wartime cartoons by a guy named Bill Mauldin, who honored the fortitude of ordinary GIs through two foot soldiers named Willie and Joe.

Mauldin's drawings of Willie and Joe are wonderful -- a couple of regular guys always balancing their weariness against their determination. They always need a shave and a change of uniform.

And in spite of the fact that Willie and Joe won a Pulitzer Prize for Mauldin, I once read that Gen. George Patton hated the way they looked.

As a kid, I'd draw my own versions of Willie and Joe. They were about what you'd expect from a 9-year-old, although I must say, I did do a pretty nice job with their stubbly whiskers. Of course, I had an extra advantage; I could reach out and touch the occasionally unshaven face of a real-live vet.

Lucky me.

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