Piece of Mind: Forgetting our protectors

Unlike some of the men of his generation, he was not eager to be a soldier. He did not rush to enlist, following Japan's Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war on the U.S. by Germany's Adolph Hitler that followed a few days later.

No, my father laid low during the winter and spring of 1942 while FDR worked to build the necessary resources so our country could wage successful battles on both fronts.

Dad, then 21, had been married less than two years and was the father of a baby boy when it became apparent to everyone that the inevitable was happening: Our country was headed to war. I wasn't around then, so this can't serve as an eyewitness account, but I learned many years later that he felt emotionally torn at the idea of leaving his young bride and son, frightened by the very real possibility he might die, and horrified he would be expected to kill other human beings.

While other patriotic souls around him jumped at the chance to protect their homeland, Dad was a very reluctant soldier, and was the first to admit it. But he did not shirk his duty. He showed up when called and before long, found himself fighting as a Private First Class on battlefields in France.

As I've written before, my father was once in a scouting party that stepped on a German land mine. He spent nearly a year in a hospital recovering from his wounds, but always told us how lucky he felt that he had survived that experience relatively intact when others in his unit had not.

Dad came home a mature man. He returned to these shores enormously proud to be an American, and thankful to have had the opportunity to go to war after all, despite the nightmares and lingering physical pains that plagued him the rest of his life.

He said more than once while I was growing up that he was touched by the French people he met who were relieved to have the Americans' help in liberating their country. He also mentioned how very appreciative he was of the support he knew was coming from the States. There was never any question in his mind that his efforts during WWII were honored by people here and abroad.

Once home, he proudly took part in every patriotic demonstration that took place, and he encouraged his children to show their respect to any member of the armed forces they encountered.

This all brings me to how disappointed my late father would have been Sunday if he'd witnessed the poor public turnout for the 5th annual Northeast Los Angeles Veterans Day Parade & Celebration.

It was the second year I had the occasion to be at the parade along Eagle Rock Boulevard, which is a lovely effort on the part of its cosponsors: L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar, the Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce and the neighborhood councils of Eagle Rock and Glassell Park. Unfortunately, there were far more people participating in the parade than supporters lining the sidewalk to cheer them on.

The parade, which carried the theme, "Honoring Those Who Serve A Grateful Nation" and showcased military veterans, seemed to have the right mix of music, marchers and dignitaries, and was preceded by an appropriately solemn ceremony. But the general public seemed disinterested.

I understand the fact that there are fewer soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than during the great mobilization of World War II, but don't they and the armed forces personnel who have protected us in the years between the "Big One" now deserve our attention, our thanks?

I hope the Veteran's Day parade along Eagle Rock Boulevard next November will draw a bigger crowd. Maybe it's still a young effort in the scheme of things. Maybe it will mature, just as our protectors are forced to do when they set foot on a battlefield.

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. E-mail her at ccormaci@valleysun.net or carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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