I don’t think any of the veterans in my family thought of themselves as heroes.
The earliest ones I know about were my great-great-great-great-grandfathers. Valentine Spawr (1769-1855) served in the U.S. Infantry under Gen. Anthony Wayne (“Mad Anthony”) fighting Indians in northwestern Ohio in 1794. Isaac Messer (1781-1861) served in the War of 1812.
Two of my great-great-grandfathers fought on the Union side of the Civil War. Valentine L. Spawr (about 1832-1882) was a flag bearer and 1st sergeant in Co. C, 14th Iowa Infantry Volunteers. Isaac Barrows (1819-1903) served in Co. I, 184th New York Infantry.
Valentine kept a diary throughout the summer of 1863 while he was stationed at Fort Halleck near Columbus, Kentucky. He was not in any battles during the time he was keeping the diary, but I enjoy his descriptions of camp life and cherish the insights into his personality. (I don’t know of any better way to get to know an ancestor who was dead before I was born.)
None of my ancestors served in World War I, but my father was drafted into the Army for World War II. He and my mother planned to marry before he was shipped overseas, but the Army’s plans changed and theirs had to, too. He was sent first to North Africa and then to Sicily. He tried to let my mom know he was in Palermo by writing to her, “How’s my old pal Erma?” They were married when he returned and lived happily ever after.
On Veterans Day everyone talks about veterans protecting our freedoms. Of all of my ancestors, I think Gggg-grandfather Messer’s service in the War of 1812 came the closest to doing that directly. That’s right—the war we have to look up because we really don’t know much about it if we’ve even heard of it. (I’ve provided a Wikipedia link for your convenience.)
My father never made a big deal about Veterans Day. All he’d done was comply with his draft notice, serve his time, escape physical injury, come home, and resume his life. One of his sisters has said he was never the same after the war; I wouldn’t know since I didn’t know him before.
He told us a few stories about his time overseas, but what I remember when I think about him on Veterans Day is the way he used to say with pride, “I never traded on being a veteran.”