My good friend, Wendy Steager, wrote this lovely speech in 2009 in honor of her father Edward A. Steager, a veteran of WWII, and to all Veterans who have served our country. It's a lovely tribute, and I asked her if I could share it on this Veterans Day:
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice -- a temporary cessation of hostilities -- was declared between the allied nations and Germany in the First World War also known as the Great War.
Beginning the following year, Nov. 11th was commemorated as Armistice Day and then became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938.
In the aftermath of WWII, and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day -- a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.
This significant day in history is recognized as the day to pay tribute and give thanks to all veterans, living or dead, who served their country honorably during times of war and peace.
Not only is this day recognized as Veteran’s Day in the U.S., but in several other countries as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and Poppy Day.
This day has always been a special day of celebration in my family because both my parents served in WWII: my mother serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in England, and my father as a U.S. soldier and infantryman in the European Theater.
They met and were eventually married while my father was stationed in England.
As a child, I remember seeing my father, in uniform, marching in every parade in my small hometown in Pennsylvania. I stood with Mom, my siblings and our neighbors along the parade route waiting for him to pass by in formation with the other Legionnaires – us all so proud and excitedly waving our little American flags high in the air.
There is a common bond of service that has kept him in close contact with other veterans through the local American Legion and the VFW.
He’s been somewhat of a local icon because he continues to visit local schools in his old WWII uniform when invited for Veterans Day events. The kids look at him in awe – a relic who represents stories they only read about in their history books.
Something quite extraordinary about my Dad is his love of poetry.
I learned that during wartime he often calmed his nerves with poetry. He was known to have kept the Pocket Book of Verse in his combat uniform to read aloud while in foxholes. But he also kept paper and a pen so he could write verse about the events he witnessed.
While conducting my research for this speech, I came across one of his poems that I found particularly interesting because of the date when the events occurred. It’s a poem about the dramatic end to a battle in which Dad fought. He was 25. That battle happened this week, 67 years ago and ended on November 11th, 1942.
Here’s what he wrote in his poem called “Flag Waving.”
I remember Teddy Jr.
As he stood upon the hill,
Overlooking Oran harbor
Where our troops were fighting still.
The French garrison commander,
Having seen the Germans leave,
Indicated to the Allies
He could safely seek reprieve.
Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt
Of the U.S. Big Red One,
Pondered how to stop the bloodshed
For this battle had been won.
With no thought for personal safety
To the palisade he ran,
Held aloft our country’s banner,
Then continued with his plan.
Side to side he waved Old Glory,
Far below the fighting paused,
French and Allied soldiers marveled
At the truce which Teddy caused.
Further bloodshed was averted,
Allied troops had won the day,
Then were counted dead and wounded
As the price we had to pay.
Should you desecrate Old Glory
If by flame or brush or soil,
It’s yourself alone you slander,
Heroes’ deeds you cannot spoil.
By Edward A. Steager. b Apr 1, 1917; d. Jan 11, 2011
My father was part of the Allied force’s strategic operation known as Operation Torch. In October of 1942 a fleet of ships carrying men and tanks sailed 15 days from Scotland, into the Mediterranean for an amphibious landing on the beaches of North Africa in Algeria.
Dad described to me that the landing was rough because there had been no reconnaissance to discover what was ahead for them. The French, who were behind the promontory on shore, lobbing bombs toward the water, were bombarding the American and British U-boats.
He remembers seeing a British boat next to the one he was on exploding when a bomb struck, and in the immediate shock of it all, struggling and scrambling with his fellow soldiers to quickly disembark their vessel with the tanks and ammunition.
The battle ensued. But finally, it ended when Teddy Roosevelt Jr. stood high atop the promontory overlooking the beach. He boldly waved a large U.S. flag while soldiers struggled to survive and battled to win on the beach below. His flag waving caused the fighting to stop. The French commanders had retreated.
My father described the scene as one of exalted exuberance and joy as soldiers cheered at the site of the waving flag and recognizing their 2nd in command on the hill above. There was no doubt about the identity of the man waving the flag as they’d all become familiar with the site of their commanders during training back in Scotland.
But then, the work of the soldiers continued as they cleaned up the scene, removing the dead and tending to the wounded. Then, they established their camps before moving across North Africa - through Algeria to the east and into Tunisia over the coming months.
This was the first time in WWII that the allied forces put their feet on enemy soil and successfully established a landing and a stronghold.
About this battle in the scope of this war, Winston Churchill said: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Although my father fought in a violent war, the peacemaker that he is at his core was never compromised. And like all those other honorable men and women veterans of military service, he continues to represent the fight for peace and freedom throughout the world.
Thanks Dad, and Happy Veterans Day.
Written by Wendy Steager and delivered as speech project #4 to Toastmasters of Greater Burlington on November 11th, 2009.
Permission granted by the poet and the publisher for use of the poem “Flag Waving.”