To the Editor:
How dear to my heart are the days of my childhood, one of which is now called Veterans Day; but for many years of my life, it was Armistice Day; my dad’s special day, a day of truce, a special day to reminisce, to relive adventures of Army life.
While opening a truck of treasures, he entertains his admiring family with his melodious voice and a bit of French. The smell of mothballs burst forth in the loft of our little home. With the appearance of three pieces of headgear, one of which would be chosen, including a beret with gold YD letters worn by the division of doughboys, or the Yankee Division who won the war according to Dad; the other two, one that looked like a metal boll and one of cloth that he could fold and put in his back pocket, would get put back in the trunk with treasures of the past.
We children watched in awe as our warrior shaved and dressed for his day of acknowledgement. His old kaki uniform with special medals and, of course, the leggings to wrap around each leg, would be worn with pride. He was still tall, slim and handsome, from an admiring daughter’s point of view.
At Exchange Place the electric streetcars unloaded throngs of spectators. As a group of young soldiers passed by, a mother speaking of love of country nudged her young son, who was dressed in knickers and warm mackinaw. Next to the waiting station, the popcorn cart was bubbling, preparing for a busy day. Gibson on the corner lured seekers for a good cup of coffee or delicious hot chocolate. City Hall, across the street, was decked with a display of red, white and blue. Winds of November expounded waving flags over most buildings.
Despite a cold sunless day and a depression lurking in our daily lives, it was a special day, bright with hope and security. We would wait in front of the largest department store to honor our heroes. The Outlet with large windows and encompassing a full block would display a fantasy of Christmas wonders, prelude to Disney World! But today was Dad’s day.
As we kept time with the Army band that we heard in the distance, our proud family waited patiently. Here they come; I see Dad – there he is – we were so proud. I think we could be heard all over Providence. He threw a kiss. He was our hero, from the beret titled on his head to his marching feet.
As the clock at Saint Paul’s Church struck 11, the 26 men from Rhode Island, with heads held high, stopped in respect. With our hands over our hearts, we stood at attention, caught in the reverence of this special event. We children excelled in silence for approximately five minutes. Silence broke with a burst of an 11-gun salute, echoing throughout the city, followed by bugler blowing “Taps.” It was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, which marked the ending of the war – the war to end all wars.
The parade began again in earnest with a harmonious military band – John Philips Sousa at its best!
Dad would meet us after his visit with his buddies, his comrades of Battery B of the 26th Division, 133rd Field Artillery, the famous YD from little R.I. Lieutenant Chafee, Attorney General Jordon, Captain Handley and Hop Along Cassidy, whose feet helped to kick the Army on the long hikes, were just a few of his comrades. How could I forget their names of whom he had spoken so often; they were his brothers in arms, his war buddies.
It was a day of delicious treats at the Waldorf or Gibson’s. Dad would excite us as we bounced in rhythm to his favorite song, “Over there, over there, we won’t be back till it’s over, over there.” I don’t think Mom was so delighted with this show of emotion, but she tolerated it, with a bite to her lip. This was Dad’s Day, and besides, she had heard it before so many times.
I suppose I could end this show of patriotism here, but for the heart-warming experience that took place on the Fourth of July so many years ago.
With enthusiasm and persuasion, endeared with patriotism, little folks in the neighborhood join the family, some with brooms hung over their shoulders, others banging on pots and pans. As the warrior carrying the flag and leading the parade, Dad’s commanding voice could be heard all over the neighborhood, shouting, “Up and at ’em,” which set in motion a small group of future warriors. Little did we know what was brewing across the waters, where some of these pretending soldiers would be in 10 short years.
I am prod of the Yankee Division; proud to be an American; and most of all, proud my husband, my dad, my four brothers and my son were all part of this special day.
Natalie Comstock Murphy