When I was 6-1/2, just before 2nd grade, my parents moved into the first house I'd ever lived in. To me, it was beautiful. Sure, the paint was peeling off the clapboard siding, and the sunporch sagged quite a bit. But it had an upstairs! And it was down the hill from the housing project, not in it - a big step up in my world!
But the best thing of all about the house was my new best friend. Mine was the last house on the dead end street. The one 3 doors back and across the street belonged to a little old couple, and Papa became my best friend. He taught me to play checkers in second grade. He taught me to play chess in third grade. But his best stories were about Europe in the Great War. Papa was Swedish (and his wife, Mamie, was American), and had a thick accent. He never told me much about Sweden, but he did tell me about marching across Europe in the War to End All Wars. And on Veteran's Day 1967, when I was in 2nd grade, he taught me La Marseillaise, and we marched back and forth across his porch singing, "Alons, enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire est arrive..." Yes, I took French in High School so I'd have a prayer of spelling that.
On Veteran's Day 1968, the 50th anniversary of Armistice Day, I rounded up all the little kids on the street, who were 2 to 5 years younger than me, and with Papa, we had a little parade in the middle of the street for about 3 houses' length. Of course, Papa, the veteran, and I led the parade, singing La Marseillaise, and the little kids just sort of "dum dum dum-ed" along. We moved before Veteran's Day 1969, but I never forgot the wonderful World War I veteran with such a spirit for life.
Papa died in 1978. I saw his obituary in the paper, and arrived at his funeral that Saturday morning. Mamie recognized me, and cried tears of joy that I remembered her beloved Papa. And I quietly sang him one last rendition of La Marseillaise beside his casket.
Thank you, veterans. May you all impact someone so wonderfully as Papa did me, after defending our world as valiantly and selflessly as you do.