I was not having the best of Veterans Days. The former president of the Kassel Mission Historical Society is upset with me because I didn't write a president's message for Veterans Day. This morning I went to Dunkin Donuts and the lady behind the counter asked me if I was a veteran. I knew what that meant. A free cup of coffee if I said yes. She probably wouldn't have even asked me for an ID. I said "No, but thank you for asking." She did give me the senior discount. Heck, last week I asked her what time it was and she took five minutes off.
As I was driving this morning, listening to National Public Radio, I shouted "Dammit!" Because one of their reporters played a tape of an interview he did with a couple who didn't plan to be on the radio, but agreed to let him use the interview. It was truly heart-wrenching, in which the couple described the night the doorbell rang and they saw two Marines outside, and they knew immediately that something terrible had happened to their son in Afghanistan, or maybe it was Iraq. He had been killed in a helicopter accident, barely a month before he was due to return home.
So why did I shout "Dammit!" in my car, in which I was the only occupant? Because just the night before I'd been thinking how the media doesn't know the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, Memorial Day is when you talk or write about the men and women who died for their country, and Veterans Day is when you talk or write about people who lived to relive their experiences. To its credit, after I shouted "Dammit!" the rest of the show was devoted to discussions of post traumatic stress disorder, and other Veterans Day appropriate material.
Maybe I'm full of shit. That's just the way I think it should be, although I was surprised by the strength of my reaction.
And then it happened. In the afternoon I got an email informing me that one Lori Greiner had posted a comment on my oral history blog informing me that a link was broken. Well, the rest of the email is what, to me, Veterans Day is all about.
"In honor of Veteran's Day, I googled my grandfather, Forrest Dixon, and came across this page with the audio link. However, the link does not appear to be working. Can this be fixed? Also, I would be interested in purchasing the audio CDs that contain stories from my grandfather. Can you provide me additional information? I would love to be able to share these stories with his great-granddaughters. Please contact me at ..."Needless to say I was not looking to sell a couple of audio CDs to the granddaughter of a veteran I interviewed, and told Lori that I would send her the audio of Forrest's interview. I also attached a transcript of a 1993 interview I did with her grandfather at his farmhouse in Munith, Mich. She emailed me back with the remark "This is great stuff." Which indeed it is. But the fact that my work had helped Lori's children learn about their great-grandfather's experiences -- and what experiences they were -- redeemed this year's Veterans Day for me.
Forrest Dixon was a farmer, an onion farmer in Michigan. He once told me a story about an accident on a nearby farm. A worker had fallen into a piece of farm machinery and his body was mangled. He used the phrase "tossing their cookies" to describe the reaction of the EMS workers who arrived, maybe they weren't EMS workers but whoever they were they faced a difficult challenge extracting the worker's remains from the machine. Forrest said he told them, "Here, let me help." He had seen things during his 11 months of combat as a maintenance officer in my father's tank battalion that made him used to sights like that.
I met Forrest at the first reunion of my father's tank battalion that I went to, in 1987, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Following the 1989 reunion in Detroit, he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. The doctor doctor told him it was helpful to talk about it. He said that within a few days, everybody in Munith knew he had rectal cancer. He lived more than another ten years.
Forrest Dixon's obituary
A couple of times Forrest's son Tom, Lori's uncle, came to the reunion with his dad. Once a few of us were sitting around a table in the hospitality room and Forrest was telling some of his favorite stories and one of the veterans addressed him as "Major."
Tom turned to his father and said, "I didn't know you were a major!"
There was one story Forrest didn't tell, or at least didn't volunteer. I had to hear it from another veteran of the 712th Tank Battalion. It was about the time Forrest climbed into a tank with no engine -- it had been removed so the mechanics could work on it -- and singlehandedly knocked out a German tank that had broken into the maintenance area.
The last time I saw Forrest, he had just been robbed. Not at gunpoint. He had a thriving vegetable garden in the back yard of his farmhouse, and some thieves drove up in the night and made off with his entire crop of butternut squash.
Thank you, Lori, for googling your grandfather on Veterans Day. I hope many others did the same.