As a child, I thought we had fought the “war to end all wars.” When, if ever, will we? 
I may be one of the last of the old guys to recognize this, but I was shocked to realize that our veterans’ roles have exploded during our lifetimes.
When I was a youngster in the 1930s it was Memorial Day — I think. We gave recognition to our veterans at a very special Sunday worship service. It was in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, a very rural area less than 10 miles from Ohio. The service was cosponsored by three area churches — Westfield Presbyterian and Mt. Jackson and Bethel United Presbyterian. (This was before the UP and the P merged to become one singular UP.)
The service was held in our school, North Beaver Township Consolidated (yes, consolidated). It was much better known as Mt. Jackson School, a 1-12 (no K) institution of about 500 students total. (Mt. Jackson, you see, was the name of the metropolis of 150 where the school was situated. I must confess that my school has disappeared, a victim of more consolidation.) The service was conducted in the auditorium-gymnasium. It was memorable and very moving event on the Sunday morning preceding Memorial Day.
I can still see those elderly World War I vets coming down a center aisle. We watched with wonder. What they had done and what had they seen? Had they been gassed? Had they fought their way through the Meusse-Argonne Forest? Had they strolled the streets of Paris? Had they killed another man and what did it feel like? In truth, I was in awe of these gray-haired Doughboys in their brown uniforms. Remember, this was 15 plus years after their war. But even more impressive were the three or four veterans of Teddy Roosevelt’s gang that charged up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War some 35 years prior.
On the real Memorial Day, we had a secular celebration in our community. Always at the Battery B Monument in Mt.Jackson. Battery B was an artilery unit that fought in the Civil War. Matter of fact, on a visit to Gettysburg I had an opportunity to visit the monument there to our very own Battery B.
We assumed, I guess, that these men and their predecessors from the Civil War (600,000 North andSouth) and other conflicts represented an unbelievably unique component of our population, and in all probability would be the last to earn the sobriquet of veteran, the last to face death on a foreign battlefield or on the sea. They were our heroes, gray-headed and stooped a bit, but heroes nonetheless.
For those of us whose history books stopped recording events after World War I, that was the sum and substance of American history. Don’t forget, my friends, that World War I was the “war to end all wars.” We believed it because it said so right there in the history book. And remember also that the Great Depression occupied everyone’s attention during those difficult 1930s.
Little did we know that many of us, in less than a decade, would qualify as members of that honored band. Suddenly on Dec. 7, 1941, we landed right smack in another war. It took us through North Africa, Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge and Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Guam, Saipan, Okinawa and more. And we came home thinking surely, surely this is the end of war.
But tragic disappointment struck again. We were to learn all too quickly our younger brothers and sons and sisters and daughters would be marching to that same deadly drumbeat. Because then out of the blue came Korea, the “Coldest Winter.” Then Vietnam and two Gulf wars and conflict in Afghanistan. This nation would add more and more men and women to the roster worthy of the title Veteran. Sadly, we are still adding to the call.
The question continues to plague me — will we ever stop adding to the roster of those who marched off to serve and, in not a few instances, to die? It is said that old men make war but young men fight wars — and die. Do we ancients really make war? Not really, but we are, I believe, guilty of glorifying war.
Is it possible that we can glorify peace? Lord, I hope so. Somehow, some way we’ve got to find a way to stop this carnage. We honor, rightly, those who have gone before, but we must also honor those who struggle to win the fight for peace. It is unfortunate, however, that we are not always the masters of our own ship.
I can only pray that the kids growing up today will enjoy a peaceful lifetime and will not add their names to the roster of honored dead. Honor our nation’s dead for what they have given us, but tell the kids there has to be a better way.

Jack McKee, a former selectman, SAD 58 school board member and Sun Journal stringer, lives in Kingfield.


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