A Veterans Day Story for the Anniversary of D-Day
Updated: Jul 3
Although Veterans Day is officially celebrated on November 11th every year, I thought I would tell this particular Veterans Day story for the 79th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6th. Well, June 5th is actually the anniversary for the minesweepers, whose job it was to clear the way. No ship could have entered those harbors on D-Day unless the minesweepers had already been there. Hence the motto of the minesweepers, "Where the fleet goes, we've been".
Signalman Jack Whiteman's granddaughter, Lauren, is an Elementary School Teacher on Long Island. In November 1999, her 5th grade class was learning about Veterans Day. It was her first year of teaching and she had the class write a letter to her grandfather, a Navy veteran who participated in the Normandy Invasion during WWII. He was 77 years old at the time. The letter was signed by all the children.
November 9, 1999
Dear Mr. Whiteman,
We are writing this letter to say thank you for our freedom. We have learned about Veteran's Day and how rough it must have been for you in the war. You are very brave. If it weren't for you and other veterans, we wouldn't be allowed to do the great things we do today. We have included a copy of a poem we really liked. We hope you like it too. Have a happy Veterans day and a happy Thanksgiving!
I remember Dad was very touched by receiving this letter. Both the letter and the poem hung in the entrance room of the house taped to a place where he saw it every day. He wrote a letter back to the class and included a photograph of a model of his ship that he was building.
To the boys and girls of Miss Whiteman's class:
Thank you so much for your beautiful letter to me about Veterans Day. You made me happy to know that what we did was not forgotten by our children and grandchildren. The poem and poppy really touched my heart.
I was on a small wooden ship called a minesweeper. We cleared and destroyed enemy mines to protect our troops and ships. I am enclosing a picture of a model I'm building. It will show you what it looked like.
All veterans look at their families today and know it was all worth it.
Dad's letter to the class unfortunately went missing after multiple classroom moves. Thankfully, it was found by a colleague some 17 years later and returned to my niece. A few years ago Lauren had this plaque made. It was a Father's Day gift for her father, my brother Joe. These words, in Dad's own handwriting, were taken from the letter he wrote to that 5th grade class. "All veterans look at their families today and know it was all worth it."
I have always felt incredibly blessed. And I was very fortunate to have my Dad in my life for almost 50 years. Finding his letters after he was gone was a gift. Pairing them with the photographs, the documents and historical content some 15 years later afforded me an opportunity to have one more long conversation with him. One we never had while he was alive. Most likely because I was too busy enjoying the freedom he fought for. I don't think I ever really asked much about his time in the Navy and he never tried to tell me. I'm sure that was what Dad wanted. He didn't need to tell me about it. He knew why it was important. That's all that mattered to him and he saw that every day of his life.
But now we are having this conversation, he and I. I'm really just listening and learning. Learning about his story and the story of the sailors who served beside him. Learning about what they went through for all of us. It's a story that needs to be told.
The photograph above is of Jack Whiteman at Acadia National Park in September 1991.
"All veterans look at their families today and know it was all worth it."
This concludes a series of 22 blog posts that tell the story of one sailor, one ship and its crew and their role in American history.
I would like to thank my family for their support with this project and especially my brother Tom, for being the inquisitive one in the family and for allowing me to include his writing.
But most of all, I want to thank all veterans, in all branches of the military, for their service and their sacrifice. I have learned and I acknowledge that it is not always an easy road. And every veteran has his or her own story to tell. This is one story.