It’s Memorial Day. Today’s paper has the names of all the soldiers from this county who died in wars, beginning from the Civil War. I live in a county that a few medium-sized cities, small villages, along with many farms and preserved open spaces. The number of soldiers willing to give their life for a cause they believe in is astounding:
“Yes,” I said. “I thought you looked like you might be…”
“Yes. You too, looked like you might be…”
We both laughed. And so we met at Flatlanders’, a local sandwich shop. He a retired Veteran; a pediatrician; a researcher; a father; a husband; and a man who goes toe to toe with Kathleen Sebalius on budget issues. Me, a retired quality professional in the FDA regulated industry; a mother; a wife; a new journalist; a newish writer; a woman awed by Kathleen Sebalius’s strong conviction at BlogHer 13.
We, Dr. Errol Alden and I sat over hot beverages as if we were old friends. Neighbors meandered in and back out, stopped to say hello and remind Dr. Alden about choir practice at the Methodist Church later that afternoon. On November 11, Dr. Alden will talk to the local High School students about Veterans’ Day.
Dr. Errol Alden, MD, FAAP, retired from a military career in 1987. He explains the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day to me: “Memorial Day is a time to remember those who died defending our country; Veterans’ Day is a time to consider what veterans contributed to their country.”
In 1938 Congress dedicated November 11 “to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’” This new legal holiday honored the World War I veterans and the end of “The War to End All Wars.” In 1954, after both World War II and the Korean War, Congress changed “Armistice” to “Veterans,” and November 11 became a day to honor all American veterans of all wars.
Alden grew up one of seven children in a farming community; I the second of nine, in a similar farming community. We were both nerdy/geeky high-school students, he played the French horn, I the flute, in the marching band. We both participated in student government. We both loved our dairy cows. Dad helped me name my 4-H heifer, Lady Bird. Dr. Alden laughed at the obvious political joke my father interjected into my young life.
Alden went on to play in the Ohio State Marching Band where he graduated with an Agricultural Science degree. So how did he become a military pediatrician? Approaching graduation, Alden pondered aloud to his parents that he might be interested in medical school. They told fellow parishioners, who told friends, who told his classmates. By the time he got back to school, the news was out. He was going to medical school. Alden confesses, “I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.”
Alden became a military pediatrician. Besides treating children of service men and women, and children of Embassy officers, he taught at Madigan Army Medical Center, in Fort Willis, Washington, he served as chairman of Uniformed Services Health Sciences at Walter Reed and he helped establish pediatric standards of care.
Throughout his 25-year military career, Alden experienced many sociological changes. Before the Vietnam war, PTSS (Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome) was rarely recognized. “People cannot be in war without emotional strain.” It only took me seeing “The Deer Hunter” to appreciate the trauma of war. Even before I had a son, I hoped never to send one of mine to war.
Alden also saw the military go from draft-status to all-volunteer. This ushered in a shift in strategy. During the Vietnam War, soldier did one tour of combat duty; now, soldiers are re-deployed to war zones many times. Alden explains the difference between an all-volunteer and a draft military, “Citizens who have been to war are anxious to avoid it.” He an I are on the same page, once again.
“Last year, we sent sheets to Cuba. My wife’s grandmother had surgery, and the hospital had no sheets.” Rainier Andres (Ray) is an American citizen who came to these United States with his mother. He has no brothers or sisters and his father is still in Cuba. Ray reminds me of a documentary I saw last Fourth of July: “Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip,” by Alexandra Pelosi. These new citizens brought tears to my eyes.
Ray was a teenager when he came to America, he was too naïve, or perhaps too filled with machismo to understand the dangers. Ray considered