Jenkins: Touching many hearts for Veterans Day

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comNovember 14, 2013 

Bland Simpson is one of those people you’d resent if there weren’t so much about him to love. Well, maybe not resent, but certainly grumble a little over the fact that he seems to be supremely talented at everything he does. An author, a teacher of creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill, a raconteur, a generous and fine human being and by the way, a keyboard player and singer with the famed Red Clay Ramblers, still going strong after decades, out of Chapel Hill.

For Veterans Day, Bland came up with a Facebook post that thus far has gotten about 60-some responses, and his post has prompted other posts, probably all over the country. The idea was simple, but brilliant: Just talk a little about family members who served America in the armed forces. No brag, just fact. Bland’s own post included about 10 family members, including his father (WWII), his grandfather (WWI) and uncles, along with members of his wife Ann’s family.

Some served within our borders, others were in Africa, the Pacific and the Battle of the Bulge. Bland needed to do nothing more that cite their service, and he closed out with “God bless you all.”

Now as if he didn’t have enough good qualities in the bank, when I wrote Bland to compliment him on his idea, he responded as follows: “It was really Dennis Rogers’ great idea, from an earlier post, for each of us to take a little while and think of all in our families who have served and sacrificed and given us the great state and nation we love.” Unbelievable. Modest, too. You’re killing me, man.

It’s of course not surprising to News & Observer readers that Dennis Rogers, now pausing from his RV adventures with his wife, HollyAnn, and living near Wilmington, would come up with such an idea. A Vietnam veteran, Dennis was for years the resident authority on all things having to do with the military, and he eulogized many a member of the armed forces in his still-beloved column.

So let’s say, then, that Dennis and Bland hit on something here that should happen every Veterans Day, coast to coast, on this thing called Facebook. Simple recollections about those who landed here before us on Planet Earth, and helped preserve it, and our own homelands, with their service.

My remembrance would be brief: my father served in the Pacific for about three years; two uncles died in airplane crashes during training missions, a not-uncommon thing during World War II. Great uncles were in World War I. The vets who survived didn’t talk about it that much, not just because they’d seen tragedy and didn’t wish to relive the pain, but because they saw it as duty, honor, country and a debt they had to pay.

That description could apply to millions of American families. There are few of any age who don’t have, somewhere, the old medals and perhaps a uniform or a sleeve patch. And so many, too many, with those gold stars that were in the windows, and the telegrams no one wanted to receive.

So much war. So many deaths and injuries. So many families, never the same, really.

The connection between the courage and glory of our armed forces, and the price that is paid and deservedly remembered was in evidence at a weekend event at which 50 or 60 friends joined Marines at a party at Sullivan’s restaurant in Raleigh marking the 238th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, which happens to be Nov. 10, the day before Veterans Day. Bryan Andersen, a lieutenant colonel, and his wife, Ann-Cabell Baum Andersen, invited a group of Raleigh friends to join the festivities, which were rich in tradition.

There was a video message from Marine Commandant James Amos, a singing of the “Marine Hymn” and a cutting of the cake with a sword. The Marines were grandly turned out in formal evening uniforms, and good humor was abundant.

But then came the time for toasts to fallen comrades, those who died in service or had passed on. One after another, Marines stood in those uniforms and raised their glasses with respect and more than a bit of sadness.

Name after name. There it was, then, the real meaning of that evening, and of the next day that would follow. Semper fidelis, the Marines say in their motto. Always faithful.

Civilian Bland Simpson had it right, too. God bless you all.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at

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