The Block Island Times

Veterans Day Remembrances

Talking to islanders who served
By John Willis, Former Captain, U.S. Army | Nov 08, 2013

Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 is Veterans Day, proclaimed by both congressional and presidential proclamation as a national holiday in 1954. The history of this day actually dates to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the end of major hostilities of World War I. It was called Armistice Day for many years and still is in certain corners of the world. Many of us know this, but I mention it as a little patriotic reminder for those that don’t.

Veterans Day is a day of solemn pride for all living veterans. All individuals that have served in the United States armed forces are known as veterans. We should not confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day, since Memorial Day honors all veterans that have died serving their country.

Here on Block Island, we have an unusually high number of veterans for such a small community. The American Legion Post 36, now known as Merrill E. Slate Post 36, serves our community exceptionally well, protecting our military traditions with veterans of most of the wars after WWl, young and old, men and women.

Just a few days before Veterans Day this week, on a cold and windy morning, Dan Millea, Commander of our post, and about 10 of his legion members placed new flags on all the veteran graves at our Island Cemetery for Veterans Day. They will do this again before Memorial Day.

I thought I would get some of the veteran sentiments for this story and checked in on those that I could find. Dan Millea was easy, keeping watch on the legion post on a daily basis; well, at least for the next few weeks. Dan served in Vietnam in 1967 in an area around Pleiku in the central highlands as a Captain in the medical corps with the 4th Infantry Division.

I found Willis Brown before he took off for Texas for a few months of winter. He was in Vietnam in 1965 but again in 1967 as an Air force pilot flying supplies into hostile areas for our fighting soldiers. He flew out of Pleiku Airbase in 1967.

Maybe just by coincidence, but I was in the Pleiku area in 1967 attached to an Army Hospital — but at a distant aid station as a combat surgeon. I was a civilian family physician at home but became a surgeon real fast in Vietnam. None of us knew each other then, but it’s just possible that all three of us had closely passed in the night within miles of each other either in the air or on a dark, dusty road. Sadly enough, there were times then when we wondered if we would ever survive those days, yet here we are all living on Block Island 46 years later.

Willis Brown offered a few words of wisdom to me in our conversation: “In addition, Doc, I probably delivered one of those extremely equipped trauma tents to you. Dan and men like you so valiantly and feverishly working to snatch the lives of the wounded from death’s grip. Every now and again I contemplate the vast difference between America’s military mood today towards those returning from the sands of the Middle East, versus the hostility we faced from Americans whose mood was hijacked by the pot smoking, free-sex rebellious youth of the 60s.”

I talked to Arthur “Bo” Rose. I stop and give him a shave every so often and we talk. Arthur is our oldest veteran and legion member at 92, an Army Ranger on “D Day,” 1944 and the Normandy Invasion and you saw him as “Popeye” with the legion contingent at the 4th of July parade.

I met Charlie Weber on his way to a construction site early one morning. Charlie is our Sargent of Arms at the legion, a young man and veteran of the war in Somalia as an Army Ranger. He just returned from a trip to Fayetteville, N.C. home of Fort Bragg for a dedication of a special exhibit commemorating Operation Gothic Serpent at the Special Operations Museum. It is the 20th anniversary of his Task Force Rangers. So you see our veterans young and old can’t stop being veterans their whole life through.

It seems like yesterday that we all awaited the homecoming of Bain Transue, Charlie Lacoste, Doug Fowler, Kyle Draper and so many more from all over the world. Bain drove his vintage Jeep in full dress for the parade; ironically, the Jeep is a thing of the past for his war. I wore a plastic bracelet given to me by Charlie’s father Ken Lacoste until Charlie came home from Iraq. When having coffee with the boys at Bethany’s Diner each morning, I asked Steve Draper, Kyle’s father, for details. Kyle served three tours in the Air force: Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq and is still in the National Guard as a Lieutenant, while now a Rhode Island State Policeman. I’m telling you, you never stop being a veteran!

Millea wanted to point out that the Legion has local veterans that served in all conflicts since WWII, including those from the Korean-war era.

All of this is the reason for all of us to celebrate this great day Veterans Day for all the living veterans. I wish I could have contacted every one of them on Block Island with each a different story. Perhaps we, the veterans themselves, need to be blessed that we are all still alive to be celebrated on this day and not on Memorial Day.

There is a beautiful country song by Toby Keith, “Made in America.’ One of the lyrics goes something like this, “He’s got the red, white and blue flyin’ high on the farm — Semper fi tattooed on his left arm.” Sounds like Howie Rice, doesn’t it? (Vietnam 1965, Marine Corps.)

Have a wonderful Veterans Day.

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