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Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17: Properly celebrating our veterans

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Opinions Columnist

The United States celebrates Veterans Day to commemorate those who have fought in various wars on behalf of our country. While this day honors veterans clumped into a mass, many vets of older wars, like World War II, have never been personally recognized.

Recently, in an effort to give them the direct recognition they have not received since sinking back into civilian life, there has been a push to find the vets hidden among the American population. This is laudable, of course, and should be a more widely adopted trend. Each one of us owes something to those who fight for us, but this can be more than just some words printed on our calendars and a “Happy Veterans Day” phone call. There are several individuals who have displayed what doing more looks like.

Air Force Col. Steven Liddy will go into retirement shortly, but rather than be honored by a ceremony dedicated to his career, as was planned, he is opting to devote his rite of passage to World War II veterans. There are few remaining, and most have slipped under the surface of civilianism — a life without much more than a chilly, gray November day to give the bulk of veterans the recognition they deserve.

Liddy finds these WWII vets through word of mouth. His objective is to award them the recognition and medals they may have earned after the war, but did not receive. Most of the young men returning from combat after the war did not receive any sort of commendation, simply due to a lack of communication resources, and as is characteristic of members of the Silent Generation, most of these vets did not speak up for recognition. Their names were lost in a sea of papers, their records remained incomplete, and their faces descended into the civilian population. Liddy hopes to fish these names and faces out and reward them as they should have been decades ago.

One of the WWII veterans whom Liddy has sought out and rewarded was Donald Cook, a man who served in the Army Infantry. In a remarkable discovery, Liddy spotted a photo of Cook on Cook’s daughter’s desk, prompting him to ask if her father had received all of his medals and subsequently launch a campaign to give Cook the closure he deserved. His efforts resulted in a ceremony in Cook’s backyard, where he was finally given the medals he had earned.

Liddy is in the process of honoring another WWII veteran: my grandfather, Uwe Grapengeter. Grapengeter served in the 87th Infantry Division and became a representative for the Tactical Military Government. Liddy called my grandfather out of the blue to see if he had received all his medals upon return to the United States. Liddy researched and verified Grapengeter’s military history and has since begun organizing a ceremony similar to Cook’s, with a senator sponsoring a flag to be flown in his honor.

Comparable to Col. Liddy’s endeavor is that of MLive Media Group, working in collaboration with the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency and the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial. This Thursday, two days after Veterans Day, these groups will culminate months of research celebrating the Michigan WWII veterans with a sizable event in their honor. This event will entail an open house where veterans can meet one another, followed by a session in which reporters will document their stories. “It’s a service to the veterans that should encourage everyone to step up. It’s such a small thing in comparison to what they did for us,” said Debi Hollis, president of the Legacy Memorial group.

In the Washington Post last week, Neely Tucker published a piece as a direct tribute to Washington’s WWII veterans, retelling the remarkable stories of multiple individuals accompanied by their portraits.

Gradually, the veterans are being profiled and their stories are being shared, accomplishing what should have been done years ago when it needed to happen. Unfortunately, most WWII veterans have passed away, as the youngest ones are breaching their nineties. Nonetheless, the remaining brave veterans deserve the honor they may not have gotten when it was pertinent. Recognizing Veterans Day is great; celebrating the sheer heroism of these individuals through campaigns that strive to give them the awards they earned is especially commendable. Only in momentous gestures like these can we take baby steps toward properly acclaiming these individuals.

 

Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 will be attending her grandfather’s award ceremony to thank him and as a gesture to other veterans like him. 

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