The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – Veterans Day. It used to be Armistice Day back when my parents were kids. It marked the end of the war to end all wars, World War I. We’ve had a few more wars that didn’t end any wars since that time, thus the name change.
For people like me, lucky enough to be born in between those various and sundry conflicts, Veterans Day is a good day to look back.
Call it an early Thanksgiving Day.
If it weren’t for people – ordinary people – like my dad for instance, I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to become what I am today. And what I am, besides extremely fortunate, is someone who gets paid for watching sports and writing about them. There’s a little more to it than that, of course, but when push comes to shove, sportswriting is a pretty good gig.
Ernest Hayes was my dad. My dad was just a kid when he went off to war in 1942. He went to exotic places like India and Burma and saw things he never wanted to talk about when it was all over.
He was an ordinary kid who came back an extraordinary man. And all he wanted to do when he returned was get back to a normal life. He and my mom were separated nearly three years. While he was away, mom grew too. Like thousands of couples in that era, they lived with less, were happy with what they had and when they raised their kids, they made sure we understood what had happened before us, all the time making sure we had more.
Indeed the greatest generation.
I recently saw a sobering statistic. There are just about as many veterans of World War II still alive as there are from the Korean Conflict and Desert Storm. There are more than three times as many Vietnam vets alive today. World War II veterans are our elderly now and it won’t be long until they are no more.
As a kid, I remember seeing World War I veterans and thinking how ancient they were. Our own dads who had fought in WWII were young, vibrant and on top of the world then.
I consider being born in 1955 to be a great stroke of luck as well. That same year, such great innovations as Crest toothpaste, Captain Kangaroo and Disneyland were born. We were the first generation of kids with a TV set in nearly every home. And back when Illinois raised the drinking age to 19, it happened to be the year I turned 19. By the time it was raised again, I was 21.
And then there was the draft.
The timing was so that when the military draft rolled around for me in 1973, it had been donwngraded to standby status. I had a card and a number, but the draft was inactive as President Nixon phased out our commitment in Vietnam.
But as lucky as I felt as an 18-year-old, I have since realized my greatest stroke of luck was to be an offspring of that great generation – the one that transformed our nation. They defeated fascism and then returned to their ordinary, everyday lives.
Because of them, some of us can earn a living telling people about people playing games.
Thanks dad – and all the other veterans.
I only wish I’d said it more when you were with us.