This 4th of July I chose to remember the Veterans of past conflicts. The marker is from the grave of Cpl William A Smith, a World War One Veteran who served with the 2nd Brigade of the 26th Infantry Regiment during the Battle of the Soissons. On July 19th 1918 one day into the four-day offensive he became one of 12,000 estimated United States casualties, in that day he during the advance he not only got shot by an 8mm Mauser but received the bonus of six pieces of German shrapnel that he would carry inside himself till 1979. That man would survive the war, return home to Harbor Springs, Michigan, get married and raise a family on a farm with his hometown sweetheart and eventually become my great-grandfather. The story of his life from 1917-1920 is largely only remembered in scraps of newspaper articles and a bronze headstone marker.
On this July 4th, I would ask people in the name of the republic and the freedoms that we honor to remember our elderly Veterans. Reach out and talk to them, get them to tell you the stories of their lives and their military histories. Many people like to focus on the battles and conflicts of war, which only tell a part of the Veterans story. When you talk to these men and women get the story of their feelings, their friends and comrades they made during their time in the service. These are the stories that disappear when they pass away, these are the human elements of conflict that help define our times. In my lifetime I have seen the death of the last remaining Veterans from World War One, and by most estimates, there are less than 620,000 of the more than 16 million who served in World War II. Once these Veterans are gone, so is their oral history. Reach out and connect with your Veteran brothers and sisters this 4th of July, and learn the story of their lives.