We were fortunate to visit the seat of the Empire in Washington, DC, last week to attend a conference (more on that to follow). The Washington DC area is home to some very moving war memorials. Among them those dedicated to those who gave their lives in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
In nearby Arlington, Virginia the Arlington National Cemetery provides a resting place for approximately 400,000 soldiers. This Military Cemetery was established on 624 acres after the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, the former estate of Mary Anna Custis, a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. Ms. Custis, of course, was the wife of none other than Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Most famously, the Tomb of the Unknowns commemorates those who perished in conflict and could not be identified. It is the focal point for many at the Cemetery. It has been guarded around the clock since 1937 and its changing of the guard is one of the most solemn and precise disciplines in the US Military.
Today we watched television program recounting the history of the Navy SEALs, perhaps the most visible and celebrated contingent of the US Military. One thing that stuck out to us is that for the SEALs who shared their stories on the program, they saw their service as “fighting other’s battles.” Indeed, this is the spirit of the Veterans who have answered the call of duty throughout History. They train and then go willingly into the face of danger so that others don’t have to. They defend those who are unable or unwilling to defend themselves, and the depth of their sacrifices is too often overlooked.
Let it be not so this Veteran’s Day, as we remember those who have given their lives for many. You can read about a few we have been privileged to know here: An Ode to the Veterans We’ve Known
With most of the markets we follow taking a breather for the holiday, save the Bitcoin, which bows to no sovereign and raced up to $383 today, we turn our gaze and tip our hats once again to veterans, not just those of the United States, which has specifically set aside this day to honor them, but of all men and women who have thrown themselves into the face of danger and worked in extremely difficult conditions to defend a national ideal that they believed in with all of their heart.
Here at The Mint, we wish to honor them by remembering the four veterans that we have known, three have passed on and one remains. Each story is woven in with our own, and has changed the course of history for us.
First, there is our Grandfather Collins, who, as World War II raged on, managed to memorize the eye chart so that they would allow him to enlist in the Army. While leaving our grandmother behind with countless other young women in the same situation at an Army base in Kansas, he boarded a troop transport which zigzagged its way across the Atlantic Ocean, dodging German U Boats, while sleeping on a rack with many other men, packed in like sardines for roughly 18 days until they safely reached their destination in England, where, as an ambulance driver he witnessed first hand the casualties returning from the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
“They didn’t tell us, but you could see they were mounting something big,” he told us of the preparations for D-Day. He mentioned that they would ride bicycles 20 miles for a beer at the Pub on weekends.
When VE day arrived, he said they were allowed to stay in some of the finest hotels in Paris, but he was extremely anxious to get home to his young bride and could not enjoy it as one might imagine in retrospect.
Next, there is our other Grandfather, Victor, who enlisted in the Army early on in World War II and was sent to the Pacific Theater of operations. While all of the Veterans we knew passed for difficult things, it was he who had the most difficult time. He was an excellent baseball player in the Army and had the bad fortune of rupturing his spleen while playing ball in Hawaii. While the surgeons were able to successfully remove it, they sewed up his abdomen with a sponge still inside! The incision became so infected that they shipped him back to San Francisco to be operated on once again as he was close to dying.
When he recovered from this ordeal, he was sent into back to the Pacific Theater and, from what the family knew, contracted malaria and got lost in the jungle. It was not until much later, after he had passed away, that we found out that he had actually been a Japanese POW and, at the end of the war, weighed just 98 pounds and again was at the brink of death.
They sent him on a train to his uncle’s farm in western Nebraska, where, fortunately, he was nursed back to health.
Third comes Edgar, our Grandfather Victor’s brother (our great uncle), who fought Germany’s Rommel, the Desert Fox, in Northern Africa. Uncle Ed’s observations of the war that he related to us were that dentistry in the field involved a drill that was powered by a stationary bike. As such, it was best to have a cavity filled when the men with the best bicycle legs were able to help.
He also observed that water was scarce, and it vexed him as to how the villages they visited during the war, who seemed short of water then, had grown to tens of thousands of people some 40 years later. He and his wife, Ethel, were featured in the Reader’s Digest as a letter Ed sent to Ethel was found among a bag of US Army mail that had been found 40 years later. It had words cut out of it to prevent the letters from giving away troop positions and planned movements that the servicemen may have inadvertently included in the letters to their sweethearts.
Ed often said that if any of us youngsters were drafted, he would pay for us to go live in Canada. After the events of 9/11, he recommended that we read The Haj in order to understand Arab culture.
These three brave men above went on to live long, full lives and, while we have recounted some of the difficult things they were called to live during World War II, they did not doubt the call of duty which was given to their generation, and were glad to have served, and even gladder to be home when it was over.
The final veteran that we’ve known is a friend and former colleague who left the company before we did to occupy a UN post in Geneva. We went to visit him once and he led us on a hike through some of the hills leading up from Ouchy, a nearby village, where at the top, we took in a pot of fondue and enjoyed the views over Lake Geneva.
We knew that Ryan, our friend, had been in the military before we knew him. During our ascent over short rock walls and past cows donning bells, we took the opportunity to ask him about his experiences. He was the leader of a tank unit in desert storm in 1991, and recalled how he would have to run up to holes in the sand to see if there were any Iraqi soldiers that had survived in their foxholes in the desert as the tank units advanced. Not for the faint of heart.
The sacrifices of men like Collins, Victor, Ed, and Ryan all too often go unrecognized and, even more often, are not recounted, even by the very men who lived through the horrors of war to their immediate families.
We tip our hats to them and to all veterans across the United States and throughout the world of all nations, for they have demonstrated that at times it requires uncommon valor to keep the light of freedom burning in this world.
May they be remembered fondly and often, and may those who made the ultimate sacrifice rest in peace.