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By Linda Emley
Sunday, Nov. 11 is Veterans Day. I’m not a veteran but I was a Navy wife for 5 years, so I understand.
My husband was on the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and twice deployed for nine months during the enlistment. My second son was born while the ship was out to sea, so another Navy wife drove me to the hospital and kept my older son while I was in the hospital.
Being a military family was not easy, but I was proud when both my older sons served in the armed forces. My father was in the Army and I have ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, so I understand why we celebrate Veterans Day.
What is Veterans Day and why do we celebrate it on Nov. 11? In 1918, on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11 o’clock an armistice was declared and World War I was over.
The following year, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first Armistice Day. The original idea was to have a day of celebration with parades and for everyone to observe a moment of silence at 11 a.m. In 1938, Armistice Day became a legal holiday.
After World War II, some people decided that Armistice Day should be a day to honor all veterans and not just those who fought in World War I. But it took a shoe store salesman from Emporia, Kan. to get the ball rolling on this one.
Alfred King owned a shoe store and after talking to the local merchants, he decided they should start a campaign to change Armistice Day to be Veterans Day. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed on the dotted line and it became a new law on May 26, 1954.
This all sounds easy enough except for a “bill” passed in 1968. The “Uniform Holiday Bill” was the beginning of our three-day weekends. This is one of the things that Congress did right. Since it did not matter to George Washington, we changed his birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus day to always fall on a Monday. On Oct. 25, 1971, the first Monday Veterans Day was not greeted with much enthusiasm. It was just not the same because Veterans Day was all about the “11th day of the 11th month at 11 o’clock.” President Gerald R. Ford saved Veterans Day when he signed a law and on Nov. 11, 1978 we started celebrating it on the correct date again.
In honor of Veterans Day, I’d like to share a story about two Ray County Veterans that are new friends to me because I only got to know them this past year. Both of them found me because they just happened to walk in the front door of the Ray County Museum and our friendship started.
My two friends are Brooke Ahart, who served as a MP in Iraq for 8 months and 22 days in 2009 and 92-year young Ted Thomas, who served in the Navy for 39 months after enlisting on Aug. 23, 1942. Brooke and Ted are a good example that there are many different types of Veterans.
The picture here is Ishmael T. Thomas when he joined the Navy on Aug. 23, 1942. This picture was taken from his military I.D., which he still carries in his billfold today. Seventy years ago, Ted was a 21-year-old sailor who saw the world. His Navy career started out “full speed ahead” because his boot camp in San Diego only lasted for 13 days before he shipped out to Pearl Harbor. He worked on a submarine base and saw many things while stationed there. One of my favorite stories he tells is about how they resolved the “dud” torpedoes. Ted said that it was very hard to watch the submarine crews come back from sea duty. They put their lives on the line everyday but the torpedoes they were using were not working because many of them did not explode when they hit their target.
I found a military page that told this story. “The USN had a torpedo problem from the beginning of the war through mid-1943. Sailors put their lives on the line to make torpedo attacks with faulty equipment. The Asiatic submarines made 136 attacks, firing 300 torpedoes in the first four months sinking only 10 ships. If the duds had been able to effectively damage their targets, the Japanese expansion may have been more contained and the long path to ending the war may have been shorter and achieved earlier.
Finally, in July 1943, Admiral Lockwood ordered his boats to deactivate the magnetic influence exploder. “Duds – torpedoes heard to hit but not explode – were addressed in September 1943 when the first torpedoes with new contact pistols were sent to war. For fully half of the war, submariners, pilots and destroyer men had risked their lives with faulty equipment.”
Ted Thomas and two co-workers were the men that worked around the clock to correct the problem by making a new firing pin that worked. Ted said they used metal from a crashed Japanese plane to make the new firing pin for the torpedos. That is a true piece of history when we find out first hand that a Japanese plane shot down on Dec. 7, 1941, helped us win the war. Ted has a knife that was also made from the metal of a downed Japanese plane.
Another great “Ted” story is he was on the first ship to enter the Japanese Harbor after the signing of the peace treaty. He told about how they had to fire ahead of the ship and blow up land mines to clear a path for his ship.
Ted had many more adventures while in the Navy but healso lived an exciting life after he got out. He worked for a Fortune 500 company and traveled all over the world. He laughed when he told me about one job in Australia. The job was only a 15-minute one, but it just happened to be the day that Ronald Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers, which stopped the planes from flying. His extra days in Australia were spent seeing some of the sights there.
Ted grew up in Oklahoma, and went back there after his Naval service. He life changed in a matter of a few days when he met the girl of his dreams named Bonnie. He married her the next week and they shared many good years on this earth with their three children.
Coming next are a few more Ted stories and then I will introduce you to my other new friend, Brooke Ahart. Please remember to thank the veterans in your life as we celebrate another Veterans Day next Sunday.
You can write Linda at email@example.com or see her in person at Ray County Museum.