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HONORING VETERANS DAY at the Wright Museum were (l-r): Dr. Michael Bowen (U.S. Navy Reserve) who delivered the principal address; Capt. Bernard Rhatigan (U.S. Army, Retired, and recipient of the French Legion of Honor); Wright Museum Executive Director Norman Stevens, who gave the introductory address; and American Legion Post 18 Commander Harold Chamberlin, who led the Nov. 11 ceremonies. (Thomas Beeler photo) (click for larger version)
November 17, 2011
WOLFEBORO — The Great Room of the Wright Museum of World War II History was the setting for Veterans Day ceremonies last Friday, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m.

Organized by the American Legion Harriman-Hale Post 18 in Wolfeboro and led by Post Commander Harold Chamberlin, the event featured two speakers and attracted a small, respectful crowd of veterans, their families and ordinary civilians.

Ceremonies began with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Wright Museum Executive Director Norman Stevens, who arrived at the museum last May, opened the formal program by reminding the audience of the origin of Veterans Day in Armistice Day, which marked the end of First World War, "The War to End All Wars."

Stevens related that by mutual agreement both opposing armies stopped firing at precisely 11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. Flying Ace Major Eddie Rickenbacker flew over the battlefield just as the time approached. He reported that the firing actually accelerated as the time drew near and then stopped, leaving an unearthly silence.

The actual armistice treaty was not signed until months later, but since then Nov. 11 has been celebrated first as Armistice Day and in 1954 the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor veterans of all wars, not simply WWI.

Stevens went on to describe The Great War, which left eight million troops dead and cost 20 million civilians their lives. He said the generals on both sides fought it as a replay of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) but the technology of war had changed radically since then with machine guns, airplanes, tanks and poison gas, and the results were horrific. In the Battle of the Somme alone there were 265,000 casualties and 70,000 troops were never found, their bodies were so pounded into the mud by bombs and artillery.

Stevens said the war marked the end of the British Edwardian Era, and in many ways World War II was a logical extension of the "unfinished business" of WWI and the Treaty of Versailles. Since 1914 there have been many wars and since 1945 there has been no time of absolute peace. WWI was no war to end all wars, as it turned out.

Stevens reminded the audience that it is soldiers who fight wars and bear the burden of them.

He said the most memorable war memorial he has seen was at Passchendaele, a Belgian village involved in the Third Battle of Ypres. There a three-foot square stone marks the place where an Irish unit overran and captured German trenches. The Germans had exact coordinates for the trenches and literally buried the victorious soldiers with artillery fire. Near the memorial stone one can see bayonets sticking out of the ground, marking where the luckless soldiers lay interred.

Stevens concluded by asking how many WWII veterans were present. Three stood. He said we are losing so many of our WWII veterans every day and he for one was proud to be here with them.

Commander Michael Bowen, U.S. Navy Reserve, made the principal remarks. Dr. Bowen said his dad drove tanks in the Pacific in WWII, and his image of a man is one who fought in WWII. He said he owns a WWII-vintage Jeep and an M1 rifle.

"Anyone who has ever put on a uniform has given a blank check to Uncle Sam," he said. "Payable up to an including his life." He said he lost a daughter, but "her life was given, not taken."

He related how Ernest Hemingway wrote that veterans could not talk about war because "you had to be there." They did talk among their comrades but not with others.

His view was that veterans never talk about combat but about places, and he intoned a long list of places from many wars: "Guadalcanal, Appomattox Court House, Verdun, Normandy, The Wilderness, Ploesti oil fields, Leyte Gulf, Normandy…" The list brought home the point that combat is a shared experience as well as history to be remembered.

Chamberlin concluded the ceremonies by asking the audience to "always support your troops."

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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