The “proudest day” of everyone’s lives is so varied. For some, it was the birth of a child, a marriage or being sworn into public service. It has been enjoyable to learn what folks in our hobby consider to be their proudest day.
For me, Veteran’s Day always reminds me of my proudest day—now 40 years ago.
I was in Kindergarten when my teacher announced that any of the students who wished to march in the Veteran’s Day parade, should arrive early at the school the morning of the parade. Each would receive a small flag to carry. The chance to be in a parade? And carry a flag? You know I wanted to be there!
After the end of our morning class session (kids went to half-days back then), I ran up to our family-owned store, four blocks from school. Out of breath, I told my Dad I was going to be in a parade! After I calmed down and shared a 10-once bottle of Mountain Dew with Dad (we didn’t know about the hazards of juicing up a Kindergartener with caffeine back then!), he explained to me that he would be in the same parade—he was the American Legion post commander.
That evening, after telling all my older brothers and sister that I was going to be in a parade with Dad, I witnessed a ritual that appealed to my young militant heart. Dad went to his closet, unzipped a large clothing bag, and took out his dark blue Legion uniform, cap and Sam Browne belt. He laid them on the dining room table and used a lint brush to clean everything. Then he polished his shoots and placed them at the foot of the table. I understood. This was what one did to prepare for marching in a parade.
So, not to be out of step, I laid out my (very cool) USMC camouflage pajamas, my plastic helmet with plastic foliage, my green plastic M1 rifle (which actually chambered a dummy round) and my Dad’s WWII pistol belt which I was able to wear by passing through the shoulder straps of Dad’s M1936 Musette Bag. The latter was stuffed with my blanket and Johnny Bear—he went everywhere with me.
My brothers teased me. They said I couldn’t wear that stuff in the parade. Crying my dismay to my Mom, she supported me by telling the others, “Of course John can wear those things if he wants to.” Deep down, I suspect she was hoping I wouldn’t.
The morning of Veteran’s Day, my Dad and I got up early. We both put on our uniforms. I had visions of leading my class in a glorious tribute to our soldiers. But, when we arrived at the appointed place for the kids to gather, no one was there—not even Mrs. Russert, my teacher. Dad recognized the gravity of the situation, but his post members were already gathering in their appointed pre-parade location. He told to sit on the curb to wait for him because he had to “talk to the men.” It was easy to distract me—after all, one of post members was passing out clips of blanks to each of the M1903-carrying Post members.
When Dad came back, he broke the news to me: He didn’t think Mrs. Russert was going to come. There would be no flag for me to carry. There would be no classmates to lead. My head fell to my chest and I was fighting tears—I didn’t want to cry in front of the soldiers. Then Dad said, “I talked to the boys, and they said you could march with the Post.”
I couldn’t believe it—I was going to march with the soldiers! So, as Dad called the men into line, commanded, “Order, arms. Shoulder, Arms. Right Face.” I followed along. I knew all this drill—Dad had taught it me long before, and I had practiced it many times.
But, the moment—the moment that made this the proudest day of my life, was when my Dad ordered, “Forward March”. He, the Post members and I stepped off together. My Dad and I were on the right of the ranks, marching side-by-side. Dad was calling cadence, and I was right beside him, marching with my plastic M1 at Right Shoulder Shift.
Happy Veteran’s Day everyone.
Editor, Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader