Veterans Day stirs lost piece of my past


By Cindy Beamon

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

My mother was sad when her neighbors moved away but not completely for the reason I thought.

I expected that she would miss them. Over the years, they had become friends, exchanging treats at Christmas and sitting together in their garages and talking.

Mom still lives in the neighborhood where we grew up, but a lot has changed. Only one family from the original homeowners still lives on the street. All the kids played together and the neighbors had get-togethers when were were young.

I understood that seeing another neighbor she had befriended leave would be difficult, but her hurt ran deeper.

The couple across the street had also known my dad before he died. Last time I spoke with them, they mentioned how my dad used to wear a big straw hat when he mowed the lawn.

Mom liked that her neighbors had known and loved Dad, and so losing them was like losing a piece of my father.

This time of year, around Veterans Day, I often think of my dad because he was a veteran and his birthday fell on the same week as the observance.

The 100th anniversary of World War I also brings back memories of my dad's father, who was a veteran of that war. I cannot recall Bubba, as his grandchildren called him, ever talking about his military service, but I was young when he died.

Fortunately, I was able to gather information from my cousin and aunt who keep better track of family history. I learned that my grandfather enlisted in the Army at age 22 and was trained as a telegrapher. He used to teach my cousin Morse Code when she was a child.

My aunt remembers him talking about walking in knee-deep water for weeks and developing a leg infection while serving in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, also called the Battle of Argonne Forest.

Only about 20 years ago did I become more aware of the horrors of that war. I was teaching "All Quiet on the Western Front" in all its graphic detail to high school sophomores. The book chronicles the lives of Paul Baumer and his young classmates, who enlisted with dreams of heroics and patriotism until facing the realities of bloody trench warfare on the front lines.

Veterans Day is a good time to remember what has largely become a forgotten war.

Museum of the Albemarle plans to erect 107 crosses on Thursday to represent each man from the 13-county region who died while serving in World War I. They are among 117,000 American casualties during 18 months of U.S. involvement in the war in Europe.

The numbers cannot tell the whole story, said Leonard Lanier, assistant curator, who researched Museum of the Albemarle's exhibit: Tar Heels in the Trenches: The Great War and the Albemarle. His research has helped retrieve details about the lives of some men who served.

Among them were Seth E. Perry, after which American Legion Post 84 is named. Perry was hit by artillery fire while trying to deliver news from the front line to commanding officers. Two others were surfmen at the Life Saving Station on the Outer Banks who were on their way home when a sudden storm capsized their boat while crossing Oregon Inlet.

In some cases, little was found about the men who served, except for their names and basic information about their home county, their date and cause of death. Over the generations, we lose a little more about those family and friends of past generations.

I am glad the crosses and Veterans Day have stirred me to reflect about one man who served and touched my life.

Cindy Beamon is editor of the Albemarle Life section of The Daily Advance