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Veterans Day

Friday, November 11, 2016

Waterford honors veterans on Veterans Day and thanks them for their service to our country.Mrs. Nebeker asked me to speak about Veteran’s Day. I myself am not a veteran and it is with a great deal of reverence that I approach this task.

I should like first to set the stage with a brief explanation of how Veterans Day came to be.

From late July, 1914 through late June 1919, the world was embroiled in armed conflict - World War I, the “Great War,” the “War to End All Wars.” In those five year of unimaginable horror, ten million soldiers died and millions of innocent men, women and children lost their lives to war, illness or famine.

I say those numbers but, honestly, it is beyond my ability to even begin to comprehend their awful meaning.

Hostilities ended with the signing of The Armistice in a railroad car in France in the forest outside Compiègne. The very first article of The Armistice set the hour and the day when hostilities ceased at 11am on November 11, 1918 - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

The nation commemorated this occasion a year later in 1919. But it was not until 1938 - 20 years after the war’s end - that an act of Congress established November 11 as “[an annual] federal holiday dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day.’”

Before even the second Armistice Day celebration the nations of the world were once again caught up in devastating conflict. The Second World War broke out in 1939 and armed conflict in Korea followed closely thereafter.

In 1954, President Eisenhower issued a proclamation which reads in part: “… it has long been our custom to commemorate November 11 - [Armistice Day] … by paying tribute to the heroes of [the First World War] and by rededicating ourselves to the cause of peace.… [In] order to expand the significance of that commemoration and in order that a grateful Nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars who have contributed so much to the preservation of this Nation, the Congress … changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.”

Setting aside the sad acknowledgement implied in this change that there may not be an end to war, I think it entirely appropriate that on Veterans Day we turn our thoughts to the men and women who serve their country.

Several years ago, in an assembly presentation like this one, I paid homage to veterans by speaking of emotions that were stirred in me at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. The perfect precision of those who guard that hallowed place provoked much thought and deepened my respect and gratitude.

Today, however, I am taking a different path, choosing to speak not of Unknown Soldiers but of two who are known.

Wayne and Wallace Manning are brothers. Wayne is the older of the two, born in 1920 to George and Louise Manning. Louise’s health had been permanently harmed by flu she contracted in the terrible flu pandemic of 1918 and she nearly died in delivering her baby son. After Wayne’s birth, doctors told her that her health would not permit the birth of any more children. But Louise - a devoutly religious woman - “got down on [her] knees and asked for strength to bear another child.”

In 1925 Wallace was born and in 1931 a daughter, Audrey.

The siblings grew up in the family home in Farmington, Utah. They attended church, played in the fields, hunted, and fished. Like many young people in Farmington today, they had summer jobs at Lagoon working at the “pop stand, the popcorn stand, the Keno parlor and the swimming pool.”

After high school, Wayne learned radio repair at the Electrical College in Salt Lake, then started a business as a radio repair expert. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Wayne enlisted in the Air Force where he trained to repair aircraft electronics. In 1945, as the war in Europe drew near its close, Wayne was stationed at Camp Stapleton in New Guinea.

In 1943, Wallace was a senior at Paris High School in Kaysville. By March he had earned enough credits to satisfy requirements, so he left high school early, foregoing graduation to enlist in the Navy. In the months that ensued Wallace received training as an officer candidate at various schools in Idaho, California and New York. In 1945, while his brother Wayne fixed airplanes in New Guinea, Wallace was studying at the Navy Communications School at Harvard University.

On June 5, 1945, a month after Germany’s surrender and three months before the end of conflict with Japan - so near the end of the war - a C-47 transport plane taking off from the air base at Camp Stapleton suffered a mechanical failure and crashed into the building where Wayne was working. Staff Sergeant Wayne Manning and those working with him died instantly.

I have read the autobiographical notes of my grandmother, Louise, which detail the significant events of her life. But there is a hole in the narrative surrounding the death of her son. To me, that void captures the depth of her grief more than words could do.

Wallace’s letters home during that time speak in somber tones of a fixed determination to carry forward with what he perceived to be his duty - made all the more sacred by the loss of his brother.

In the months that followed, Wallace shipped out with a carrier fleet, spent time at sea. The war ended, Wallace was discharged from active duty, married the woman he loved deeply and raised a family of seven children, of whom I am one.

To me, Wayne and Wallace are heroic. I admire the courage displayed by these two brothers who resolutely faced the dangers of world war because they felt it their duty; who knew that there are ideals that should be defended - even at great personal sacrifice. This courage and steady vision are shared by all who place themselves in harm’s way in the service of their country.

I feel a debt of gratitude - to them specifically and to all who step forward and do the difficult things that must sometimes be done to preserve for us what we hold most dear.

Today is Veterans Day.

It is my hope that on this Veterans Day we will recognize that Veterans are not a faceless, anonymous category, but real people with faces, names and stories.

It is my hope that this Veterans Day will not - as it so often does - slip by unnoticed, but that we will use it as the occasion to think about principles and ideals that are larger than ourselves.

It is my hope that on this Veterans Day - and on every other day - gratitude to those who serve will be keenly felt and openly expressed. Please, when you see a soldier or a veteran, be brave, extend your hand, look him or her in they eye and say with gratitude that is heartfelt, “Thank you for your service.”