“In Stone” (for Veterans Day)

November 8th, 2013
By Dennis Lowery, www.DennisLowery.com

 

“These are the times that try men’s souls.  The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.  Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, more glorious the triumph.” 

– Thomas Payne, ‘The American Crisis’ #1, 19 December 1776

in-stone-for-memorial-day-by-dennis-loweryThe best and most lasting of buildings are those erected on a strong foundation, firmly attached to bedrock underneath, stable and able to bear tremendous loads, withstanding wind or storm. Societies and nations are built that very same way. But not with stones or bricks and mortar—nations are built on the character of its people manifested in the traditions of that country’s history.

There are individuals who stand out for contributing more—often becoming the sum and substance of a nation’s foundation so that the “center does hold.” Like mortar and stone, it is their blood and bone—their grit and determination that cements our country together. For more than two centuries, our land has become dotted with remembrances of them in stone. Men and women, who wore our nation’s military uniform, swearing an oath to protect and defend all we hold dear; the cloth they wear is the fabric of our hopes and dreams of past, present and the future.

In O’Fallon, Missouri stand two small monuments—one placed to officially mark the site of a second—a stone remnant dating back 212 years. The first sits at the entrance to a small park memorializing a piece of history and a family whose legacy of military service extends back to the Revolutionary War. The second, a stone chimney, is the sole remaining part of a building first constructed as a homestead in 1798.  Later, during the war of 1812, it became a fort to house and protect ten local families. Long abandoned and stripped of useable wood in the early 20th century, all that is left is that chimney. Weathered, it has endured the conflicts of earlier years, abandonment and the harsh elements that have washed over it for more than two centuries, yet it still stands tall.  The stone gathered in 1798 remains in place today, ready to serve again, should it be needed. The qualities of that stone are not unlike the family whose name the fort bears.

Ever since the Revolutionary War, a member of the Zumwalt family has served in uniform in every major war in which our country has fought.  Its youngest male member, Navy Lieutenant James E. Zumwalt, served two combat tours in Iraq, where he and his team defused more than 150 IEDs. The most famous family member was Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., who commanded all U.S. naval forces in Vietnam during that conflict, afterwards becoming our nation’s youngest Chief of Naval Operations—the highest-ranking officer in the United States Navy. His sons, Elmo and Jim, served in Vietnam, too. Jim also served in the Panama intervention and Desert Storm.

In a bitter irony of the Vietnam war for the Zumwalt family, Elmo returned home to die of cancers related to his exposure to Agent Orange—a chemical defoliant sprayed along the banks of South Vietnam’s waterways on the orders of Admiral Zumwalt. Years later, Admiral Zumwalt would die of cancer related to his exposure to asbestos during his military service.

The admiral’s remaining son Jim, who is my friend, wrote a book based on a journey he undertook to come to terms with the loss of his brother.  The book represents a transformation from great anger towards his former enemy and the Vietnam war to compassion and understanding after coming to understand that enemy had endured even greater hardship and suffering.  Entitled Bare Feet, Iron Will—Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” these stories are told based on interviews Jim had with hundreds of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong veterans.

For generations the Zumwalt family has embodied the spirit that makes America a great nation. The family’s willingness to serve and sacrifice, coupled with its empathy and understanding for a former enemy, is something we should all learn from in striving to become better citizens of the United States and the world community.

Families like the Zumwalt’s are rooted deep in the bedrock of this nation. They epitomize those that stand up and heed a nation’s call to duty in time of crisis. They and others like them, at Valley Forge, the Meuse-Argonne, Guadalcanal, Leyte Gulf, Bastogne, Khe Sanh, Baghdad and Kandahar and many other places known and regrettably unknown, have served and died—contributing to a proud tradition that represents the very essence of America.

“We have shared the incommunicable experience of war. We have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top … In our youth, our hearts were touched with fire.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (who served as a young Union soldier in our Civil War)

And so throughout the land, the monuments and memorials stand to remind us of those who have served. But it is the markers of their death—the placard in stone above their resting place—that should forever call to us in a voice above a whisper that it is these men and women above all, who should be honored and remembered this Veterans Day.

“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.”

– Laurence Binyon ‘For the Fallen’ (1914) written just before the huge slaughter on the Western Front in WWI.

 

About the Author

Dennis Lowery is an eclectic, and occasionally risqué, writer and author of both nonfiction and fiction. His original fiction stories span the thriller, adventure, fantasy, science fiction and horror genres for the Young Adult, New Adult and Adult markets. His creative writing and ghostwriting skills have helped clients turn their knowledge, life experiences and imaginative ideas into compelling and entertaining stories and books (memoirs, nonfiction & fiction).

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