November is the month in which we in the US set aside the 11th to honor our veterans of war. And if the sports year were going as it should, the red poppies in Canadian hockey announcers’ lapels would be reminding me that our northern neighbors are among the countries that observe Remembrance Day at the same time.
I’ve come across lots of tributes to those who put their lives on the line or who gave their lives for their countries (including while I’ve been out and about getting to know Canada):
Afraid I’m not sure where in Finland I took this picture – I saw Winter War veteran graves marked with vivid red flowers in the cemetery of many a Finnish town:
I happened to be in London on the 11th day in 2003 when this Australian War Memorial was dedicated! Entirely by accident, I wandered up just after the ceremony finished – and the monument was already covered with flowers, photos, and even a little toy koala in memory of Australian soldiers who fought alongside the British during the world wars:
Recently (especially what with the pandemic and all…), I’ve begun to follow my nose-for-the-historical to destinations closer to home – and I’ve made some lovely local “discoveries”!
Like in McCambridge Park here in Burbank! It’s a city block full of lawns and facilities for activities like swimming, softball and (in more carefree days) picnicking and partying. But a few weekends ago, I was looking for something else – a rose-adorned corner of the park set aside as a dedication to veterans:
I don’t know that I’ve seen a more concentrated and comprehensive collection of honors! Around the base of the torch-topped central tower are dedications to each branch of the military:
Other plaques list Burbank residents who gave their lives in war, including in Vietnam:
The city’s aim of doing justice to those who have selflessly served our country – to the departed, the missing, and those who made it home – is summed up here:
This corner of Burbank isn’t a particularly quiet one. Cars roar past on two sides. And I’ll bet on pleasant, non-pandemic days, the sound of kids at play competes for attention as well. Still, spending even a few minutes among these sentiments in stone proves a wonderfully solemn experience!
Of course, there are plenty of other SoCal tributes around for the finding! Like this artifact from wars past that I came across in LA’s Pershing Square over a decade ago (probably while making lemonade out of downtown jury duty service):
It’s a cannon from the USS Constitution – a grand old ship built at the end of the 18th century and used to defeat pirates and defend our young nation in the War of 1812! It seems original cannons from “Old Ironsides” were distributed all around the country – and one ended up being gifted to the city of LA in 1935 as a dedication “to the memory and valor of all veterans who served under the American Flag”.
The rest of Constitution still survives today! She was otherwise restored and hangs out in Boston Harbor where I’ve been for a visit – that’s why I was definitely surprised to find a piece of her practically in my own backyard!
About a year ago, I stumbled onto the local mention of another US war vessel – but in this case, its whereabouts and precise fate aren’t known. I was walking around Burbank (which kind of only happens when my car is in the shop) – and while wandering a street filled largely with businesses and shops, this plaque sitting outside a building caught my eye:
On further (and farther) inspection, I discovered this was a “Veterans of Foreign Wars” (“VFW”) establishment where members help see to the health and welfare of veterans and their families. As part of its mission to provide resources for veteran comradeship and aid, this location apparently maintains a full bar inside!
It also preserves the memory of lives lost aboard the submarine USS Gudgeon – and I finally got around to doing a little research into this sub’s history and service. According to Wikipedia, its “keel was laid down” at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California, it was launched in 1941 and was the first American submarine to sink an enemy warship in World War II. After a number of successful Pacific patrols, Gudgeon set off in April of 1944 – and tragically, was never heard from again.
I didn’t recognize any of the crew names, but the Mare Island reference prompted me to consult another historical text – my dad’s autobiography – to verify a small connection. Dad writes about how he joined the Marines in 1945 as a baby-faced kid of 17 and how, because the war ended soon after, he spent the balance of his “hitch” guarding an ammunition depot.
It was on Mare Island in Vallejo – where Gudgeon’s story began a few year before.
There’s a website OnEternalPatrol.com that’s “dedicated to all men lost while serving in the US Submarine Force”. The Gudgeon page includes images of most of its 81 crew members – similarly fresh-faced youths who didn’t get the chance to live the full life that Dad did. I’m grateful to have been introduced to these brave men.
I’m glad too that I finally paid a visit to that corner of McCambridge Park where I could pause and honor those who serve and those who’ve been lost – and be thankful for that service.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to quite a few other corners of the world where I’ve discovered first-hand that war heroes living and lost may be remembered in all manner of ways: with a grand monument, with a relic from another time, or with the reverent placement of flowers or flags –
And now I know it also may be with an unassuming reminder tucked along a tree-lined neighborhood street – a reminder very close to home.