Veterans give us right to choose

Pat Haley - Contributing Columnist

The election is over.

I wrote this article last Sunday when the outcome of the presidential election was unknown. This year’s presidential campaign was a hard-ought battle on both sides. It was an election where people seemed to be voting against someone or something, more so than for someone or something.

No matter the outcome of the election, there will be cheers today by some, and there will be those who will find it hard to hold back the tears.

Perhaps as Former President Reagan once said, “When the battle’s over and the ground is cooled, well, it’s then that you see the opposing general’s valor.”

I hope this is the case.

Maybe Vince Lombardi got it right when he said, “After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, after you are back in the quiet of your room, and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.”

When I reflect on Lombardi’s words, I don’t think necessarily of football players. I think of our men and women in the armed forces who have served, and those who gave their lives so we would have the opportunity to make the world, and America, a better place to live.

It is fitting that Election Day and Veterans Day both fall within the same week this year. Without the sacrifice of veterans, there would be no free elections.

This past week, I was cleaning my home office and came across a scrapbook with the title “War World II” scribbled across the front. My mother had kept family military keepsakes from that special time in our nation’s history, which I am proud to say, has been passed down to me.

I looked at the weekly letters my mother had sent to the many young soldiers and sailors during the war. Although she didn’t know them, she wanted to make sure they received mail from home during the most dangerous and lonely time in their lives.

Mom knew a letter at roll call or a box of cookies would brighten the lives of the soldier or sailor for weeks to come.

Slowly, I turned the page of the scrapbook and found a letter and envelope that were pasted on a single page.

The letter was from our cousin, Patrick J. Dwyer. The postmark on the envelope was dated June 5, 1944.

Patrick was a Clinton County farm boy. The only time he had left the farm was when he worked for the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and then of course, when he was drafted into the Army. He had never been out of Clinton County before in his life.

He wasn’t a military man. He was a farmer. Like many farmers, truck drivers, salesmen, educators and clergy, Pat did his duty for his country when his name was called.

“My dear Ellie,” the letter began. “We are in Ireland now, but rumor has it something big is about to happen, and it will happen soon,” the Private First Class wrote. “Ireland is great, much nicer and warmer than Iceland where I spent time before.”

“I will send you a shamrock if I get the time to look for one, ha! ha! ” Dwyer continued. “I am doing well, so don’t worry about me. I will be home soon. Give my love to Mom and the family.”

The next day, Private Dwyer died on the beach of Normandy.

“He died from enemy fire,” the letter from the Army told his mother many months later. The farm boy’s grave marker in France reads: “He fought the good fight. He finished the course. He kept the faith.”

I stared at the letter for the longest time. This young man had given his life so our nation could continue to enjoy our many freedoms, including free elections, and so we could vote for the candidates of our choice.

On Friday, November 11, 2016, our family will attend the Veterans Day celebration at the Clinton County courthouse, bow our heads, and thank God, and our veterans, that we live in a country where we still retain the right to freely choose our leaders.

So now the election is over.

“So I turn my back, turn my collar to the wind, move along in silence, trying not to think at all, I send my feet before me, walk the silent street before me, it’s over,” so sang Jimmy Rodgers fifty years ago.

It’s over. And now it’s time for our country to come back together. Again.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.

Pat Haley

Contributing Columnist