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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Veterans Day - 11/11/1962

Fifty-four years ago when 11/11 came around I wasn’t a veteran, but I was becoming one at the US Army's Medical Training Command, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. I was three or four days short of three months into a three-year enlistment, and I had not considered when I got up that morning exactly what “Veteran’s Day” meant to a military command. Turned out, it meant a lot, and it also turned out that there was no better place to celebrate our predecessors than San Antonio.
There were five military reservations in and around San Antonio, with thousands of soldiers and airmen assigned to them. In addition, there were tens of thousands of retirees from all branches of service, and the children of those retirees had their choice of dozens of military academies. Military bases, retirees, retiree organizations (American Legion, GAR, VFW, AmVets and at least a dozen I’d never before heard of), military schools and a city filled with broad, straight streets... it was Parade Day, and no foolin’ around.

Each service contributed a company-sized contingent to the City’s official parade past the Alamo and down Houston Street through downtown San Antonio. In addition, there was equipment on display from all the services, and each contributed a marching band. And then there were the military academies. Each had a marching corps and a marching band, and some had a dance corps. It was a long parade, even without floats. We trainees did not get to attend that parade. We had our own celebration on base. I returned to Ft. Sam in 1964 as cadre in the Medical Training Command, and finally got to see the parade.

Training classes were held in the morning, but there were huge formations (of which we were all a part) on base in the early afternoon. The formations were reviewed by ranking officers and local dignitaries. The ambient temperature on any November 11 in San Antonio was about equivalent to midsummer in Ohio. The parade ground was packed dirt, and it was dusty. We marched in the heat and dust past the review stands in Class A uniforms (sturdy khaki pants and long-sleeved khaki shirts with ties and saucer hats) and then stood in the south Texas afternoon heat for an hour listening to the denizens of the reviewing stand tell us how important we were to America’s freedom and future. We were assured that as veterans we would be honored by America for our service (there was, as yet, no Vietnam War), and proud to have served, which I already was and still am.

San Antonio was filled with uniformed military personnel on Veterans Day, and it was a party late into the night. I doubt it’s nearly as much today, but on Veterans Day in 1962 it was good to be a soldier... or a veteran.

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