I have a soft spot in my heart for military veterans.

It’s no wonder — our family has so many who have served.

My father-in-law was a combat veteran in World War I. My husband, my brother (also a combat veteran), an uncle and several cousins were in World War II, and since that time a brother-in-law and two of my sons have also been in the military (one during the first Gulf War).

If anything good can be said to have come out of the 9/11 tragedy and the war in Iraq, it is that more and more people today make a point of saying “thank you” when they meet these young men and women who wear their country’s uniform.

With Veterans Day coming Saturday, a brief glance backward at the origins of the day seems appropriate.

November 11 was known as Armistice Day when I was a child. It was a day to remember the end of World War I, which was called “the war to end all wars.” Hostilities ceased at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the Germans signed the Armistice.

Armistice Day was first commemorated in the U.S. by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Many states made it a legal holiday, but it was not until 1938 that Congress made Nov. 11 a legal holiday nationwide.

The citizens of Emporia, Kan., staged a Veterans Day observance on Nov. 11, 1953, instead of commemorating Armistice Day. Congressman Ed Rees of Emporia introduced legislation to officially change the name to Veterans Day. A letter-writing campaign was conducted to secure support throughout the states, and House of Representatives Bill No. 7786 was signed by President Dwight Eisenhower on June 1, 1954, to honor those who served America in all its conflicts.

Since that time, the day has become a time for honoring living veterans who have served in the military during wartime or peacetime.

While we’re on the subject of living veterans, I’d like to call attention to an outstanding book written by a Hunt County POW from World War II — 92-year-old Harry Thompson who now lives in Wolfe City.

His story is titled “Patton’s Ill-Fated Raid,” and if ever a book gave a vivid picture of the sacrifices of our military, this is it.

Harry brought his manuscript into the Herald-Banner office back in 2000, and asked me if I thought he had a story worth publishing. Did he ever!

We did an article on his experiences and about his manuscript which at that time had the working title “As I Remember.” Others in the area recognized the importance of his story and steered him toward a publisher, and in 2002, Historical Resources Press brought out his book.

The beautiful thing about Harry’s memoirs is that it puts the reader right alongside him as he and the other POWs march through Belgium and Germany.

Describing the conditions as they arrived at Nuremburg’s POW Camp Oflag on Dec. 29, 1944, he recalled, “They gave us a large crock bowl to receive our food and eat out of. I had eaten nothing since the morning of Dec. 17 (his date of capture), and that was only a cup of coffee some 12 days before — except for one small slice of German ‘war bread’ they gave us on the road, and I was so sick I could not eat that. Now the crock bowl was filled with hot water with half a turnip floating in it ... That was the full meal they promised us ... Nearly all the meals in the camp were the same. Occasionally we had some very thin potato soup with a thin slice of German ‘war bread.’ Hungry as I was, I still could not choke down that bread. It smelled sour and each time I tried to eat a bite I would start to gag. We had heard it was made from sawdust, acorns, and I do not know what else, but if a starving person could not eat it, it must have been pretty bad.”

Once again Thompson and his fellow prisoners were moved, to Hammelburg and then later to Moosburg POW camp. On the march they scavenged whatever food they could.

“On April 23, 1945,” he wrote, “we were told we would be given a day off from marching, for Hitler’s birthday. The guards heated up a 50-gallon drum of water and told us when it was boiling we could boil our socks. I had not had clean socks since capture, and it gave me an idea. I went up to a barn loft and caught a pigeon. I hid behind the hay and plucked the feathers out of it and gutted it with my bare hands, hiding the evidence in the straw. Then I removed my shoes and socks to put the pigeon in one sock and a potato in the other. By this time the water was boiling, so I tied the socks together and threw them in the boiling water with all the other socks when the guards were not looking. The dirty sock water made for a pretty nasty broth, but the pigeon and potato were edible.” He divided them up with a fellow POW.

Harry and the others were liberated by American troops near the town of Gars in May 1945.

Reading Harry’s book is a reminder of how precious our freedom is, and how much we owe our veterans.

“Patton’s Ill-Fated Raid” by Harry A. Thompson is available at the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum and at Hastings Books in Greenville for $29.95.

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