On our travels we are realizing how privileged we are to live in the United States and be able to make this kind of trip. We recognize the sacrifices that have been made by so many troops to protect our freedom and American way of life.
Most towns we’ve passed through have some monument for military personnel from the area. On our drive around Lake Champlain we learned stories of military heroes from the mid-1700s, mid-1800s, and mid-1900s.
Between Vermont and New York, the entire island of North Hero (Vermont) in Lake Champlain gives recognition to Ethan Allen and 364 other Vermont heroes, many of them members of the Green Mountain Boys. Among other notable achievements, in 1775 they captured Fort Ticonderoga, a small but important battle of the Revolutionary War. After the war they were granted three islands as gratitude for their services.
Battery Park in Burlington, Vermont, was a military camp in the early 1800s. This cannon commemorates the successful fending off of the British at this location in the War of 1812.
A few yards away, a plaque lists the names of those killed, wounded, and taken prisoner during the Civil War from this area so far removed from the Confederate secession, both in geography and way of life. Yet 1,858 men from Burlington and other towns of Vermont served in the 2nd Vermont Volunteer Infantry. Out of these men, 399 died, 692 were wounded, and 129 were captured. How does a town go through this kind of loss? Not just one or two of their young men fell on the battlefield, but many of the sons and brothers and husbands who returned from the war were harshly impacted.
Plattsburgh Air Force Base in New York is on the opposite side of Lake Champlain from Burlington. In the 20th century, it was one of the oldest military bases in the country, providing support from the Revolutionary War through Operation Desert Storm. Now the base has a park displaying a small collection of planes retired from that period of service.
The site was a Strategic Air Command base during the Cold War, with Air Force personnel stationed here from 1955 to 1995 when it was finally closed.
South Portland Maine tells the stories of the men and women, mostly women, who became manufacturing workers during World War II to build over 2,700 Liberty Ships that delivered war materials.
Nancy’s mom was one of the “Rosie the Riveters” who worked on the war efforts. She was uprooted from a small farm in rural northern Wisconsin to travel to New England with her sister so they could do their part for the country working on Corsair planes. Nancy’s dad, meanwhile, was in the thick of fighting in Italy.
Some veterans are reluctant to talk about their military lives. Others share their experiences with pride. In the Chatham MA post office I asked a man about his USS naval hat. He recited the 11 theaters he visited during World War II from Iwo Jima to Okinawa. His service and bravery, along with the efforts of his fellow soldiers in arms, enabled the US victory in the Pacific. If the outcome had been reversed, our visits to Hawaii and Hong Kong in January might have a very different perspective.
Short ‘n’ Sweet ice cream shop in Chatham has one piece of Vietnamese propaganda art high on a wall amid other quaint old ads and clippings. The proprietor wears a USMC shirt. His tour of duty was one year in Anwan province during the Viet Nam War. He gave me the exact dates after all these years. Every day of rain and jungle mud, land mines and snipers, uncertainty and terror is indelibly etched in the memories of so many men who served our country during that war in a far-off land. Baby boomers now, some of us served—and many died, some of us protested and some of us just watched as that controversial war dragged on.
On the other side of the country in California, we rode our bikes through the small town of Glen Ellen, north of Sonoma. The Wolf House Restaurant at Jack London Lodge hosted a flag-raising ceremony and recognition celebration for local veterans on Sunday. One of the attendees we spoke to works with a group to help match returning veterans with job needs in the private sector.
Today is the one day of the year that we officially recognize the contributions of our veterans. But each and every day we realize and recognize the great service and sacrifice of our troops, veterans, families, and civilian supporters who keep our country the great United States of America.
Thank you for your service.