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November 10, 2010 - Michael Palmer
November 11, 1918. Armistice Day ended World War I. It took effect at 11am on 11 November - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was May of 1916 when the war came to my grandpa Antonio‘s home. My grandfather was a young man in a quiet village called Cles nested on the banks of a lake in the Alps of Northeastern Italy where he was a cheese maker and Alpine guide. The Austrian Army over ran their village and pressed the men of the occupied area into service with their armed forces.
The region is located in an area of Italy that is in close proximity to Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Germany and Austria were allies in WW I fighting against Russia, France and England. While news of the war had buzzed through the region, when the Austria-Hungarian troops invaded his village his choices were few; join the enemy army as a guide, go to prison or death.
Since he spoke five languages fluently and a few others he could understand, he was picked to be a guide and sent to the Western front with Russia. On their first battle assignment, the young lieutenant in charge of his unit marched them into a camp at night. The campfires he thought were an Austro-Hungarian army unit were in fact Russian and the troops were captured without ever firing a shot. This was a relief to my granfather.
However, the Russian’s did not believe the young man and his friend who claimed to be Italian nationals pressed into service by an enemy. He was sent to a Russian prisoner of war work camp on the western shore of the Black Sea near the region of Georgia.
Grandpa Tony did not like to recall those memories and would rarely tell the story, when he did, I was glued to my chair.
The armistice was not a news item in the work camp and the young man and his friend from Italy did not learn of the end of WW I until some 18 months later when he read about it in an old newspaper that was in camp. He had learned to read Russian and when he found out that the war had been over for more than a year - he felt very angry and decided it was time to escape.
He and his friend made a plan to sneak out past the guard during the night and then go to a near by farmhouse and steal the farmers rifle. Then the pair would go to the rail line and hi-jack a train south into Turkey. The plan worked, the pair were free at last.
When he completed the long journey home, he found much had changed. He was presumed to have died in the war along with several of his brothers and cousins. While everyone left in the village was happy to see him, his remaining family members had left the depressed economy of post-war Europe for the opportunity in a new country, America.
He wrote his brother who was working as a cheese maker in Iron Mountain, Michigan and received an invitation to follow him to the United States. At age 26, he left Cles and traveled to Cherbourg, France where he bought passage on the ship Lapland bound for the new country.
He arrived at Ellis Island on January 3, 1921. While he now spoke six languages fluently, none of them was English and eventually took a job as a coal miner in Midvale, Ohio after learning many of the miners spoke European languages and he could function better while learning his new language.
I lived with my grandpa when I was a small child and then he came to live with us when I was in fourth grade. Every year in November, we would celebrate Armistice Day, or as we now call it Veterans Day. Grandpa Tony had been cheated out of celebrating the first and liked to make up for it. He never had much use for war but always had a great respect for soldiers. His philosophy was that the poor man had to fight the rich man’s battles in order to keep his own freedom intact.
I had a great uncle who was a mechanic on the P51 Mustang’s in WWII. My dad and his best friend signed up for military duty in Korea. My father ended up a sailor on a destroyer escort and his friend got duty with the Army and was one of the survivors of the battle of the Chosen reservoir.
I worked for seven years as a civilian employee of the Air Force but never served in the active military. My father-in-law was in the Army and all of my brother-in-laws are Vietnam vets. Currently my nephew is a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns doing four tours with the 160th Night Stalkers.
Therefore, it is with great honor and respect that I pass on the following:
It is the Soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the Soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech. It is the Soldier, not the politicians that ensures our right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It is the Soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag.
God Bless Our Military
WE LIVE IN THE LAND OF THE FREE, ONLY BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE!
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