The purpose of Memorial Day is to honor the many young American men who served in the nation’s wars—World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and our most recent military adventures in the Middle East. Out of respect for the many Americans who fought and died fighting this country’s wars, I am always drawn to attend Memorial Day events. These gatherings are especially meaningful for two reasons.
Presented at the Oakwood Village University Woods
Veterans Day Program, November 11, 2022
Armistice Day, Thursday, November 11, 1943, is a day I will never forget. In my 10th grade English class that morning, Miss Ruggles told us about America’s role in the Great War. Then, she introduced us to a selection of poems written by the War Poets, among them Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and John McCrae, author of one of the best known and most easily understood poems, “In Flanders Fields.” I am sure many of you remember it; let me read a few lines:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow,
Then, at 11:00 a.m. factory whistles all over town blew for two minutes, bringing everything to a halt.
Seventy-one years ago, on January 11, 1951, I joined the 38 other young men my age assembled in front of the Racine Wisconsin Memorial Hall. Why? Because just a few weeks earlier we each received one of the letters made famous during World War II. It came from the President of the United States and began with the familiar words: “Greetings. You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States, and to report at . . .”
December 1952: A Letter to Family and Friends
I began writing this essay several times, first on the day before Christmas and several more times during the following two weeks. But, in every case lethargy overwhelmed my noble intentions. So, the dates of my mental compositions are noted for at least some of the material that follows. I begin with a few preliminary comments before moving on to the main subject of this essay.
We hope all of you grandchildren had a joyous Christmas. Based on phone conversations with your Mom and emails from your Dad, it sounds as if everyone had a specular time being reunited at Christmas, seeing Warsaw at first hand, and visiting Krakow and some of the concentration camps. I am sure the latter visits though informative were quite depressing. It is difficult to imagine, whether you’ve visited the camps or not, the magnitude of the crime perpetuated by the Nazis. Reading about what happened is bad enough; I recall the several books written by the Italian author, Primo Levi, who was a survivor. Two of them, Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening, describe his experiences in the camps. Though a survivor, he never fully recovered. Not too long before his mysterious death in 1986 he wrote a third book on the same topic, The Drowned and the Saved. These books are powerful and are to be recommended when you have time for leisure reading.
A crowd had already gathered inside the Bethel Lutheran Church at the north end of Washington Island when we arrived for the Memorial Day Service. The church was soon filled, with many people standing at the back or in the church entryway. Promptly at 10:30 am the Service began, led by the Commander of the American Legion Post 402. After a brief introduction and the Pledge of Allegiance, we all sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and a bit later in the program, “America,” “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and “God Bless America.”
Presented at the Oakwood Village Program "Commemorating and Remembering the 100th Anniversary Of Armistice Day"
Arts and Education Center, Oakwood Village, Madison, Wisconsin.
Last August, with my daughter Martha, I revisited several World War I American Military Cemeteries in France, plus a World War II American Military Cemetery in Italy. I first visited these cemeteries 65 years ago. I wanted to visit them once more while still able to do so. I wanted to honor the 100th anniversary of the Armistice Day Agreement that ended World War I. I also wanted to pay tribute to the many young Americans who gave their lives fighting in that “war to end all wars.” I knew this trip would be both sobering and emotional, and it was. Here is my story.
About the Author
At age 92 I decided to showcase my recent and current writings on a variety of topics outside of my career interests as an economist. My wife Sally’s dementia, my experiences of war, and my interests in improving higher education all compel me to write.
For most of the last decade I maintained a low profile, necessitated by my wife Sally's suffering from a decade-long siege of vascular dementia. After she passed away several years ago I wrote about our experience, in the belief that this would be helpful to the many others who suffer from dementia and their family caregivers. I am currently seeking a publisher for my book manuscript: The Forgotten: Dementia and the Right to Die.
Over the past few years I began working on several other writing projects that are described more fully elsewhere in my blog. These include a nearly-completed book manuscript on my "expected proficiencies approach to the college major'' as a vehicle for reinvigorating liberal education. I continue to write on the shortcomings of UW-Madison's affirmative action policies and programs that over the years have been renamed "diversity and inclusion" policies and programs.
Within two weeks of my graduation from UW-Madison in June 1950, the Korean War broke out. I was drafted and expected to be sent to Korea to join our fighting forces there. But instead I was sent to Turkey for 18 months. How lucky I was. I am also writing a memoir of my Korean War military experience when I served as an U.S. Army adviser in our military aid program in Turkey.
Until I began branching out beyond economics, I failed to realize what a profound effect the Great Depression and World War II had on me as I grew up. I have already captured some of these recollections, with more of them to follow.
With that introduction, I turn you over to my blog entries as well as my other writing projects described more fully elsewhere in my blog. Best wishes ~ W. Lee Hansen
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Award-winning author W. Lee Hansen, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Full bio.