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Soldier, rest

Nov 13, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

This Veterans Day probably was the first without any World War I troops

Sir Walter Scott found success writing both narrative poetry and adventure novels in the early years of the 19th century. His words, incidentally, are set to the tune that accompanies the President of the United States: "Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances."

Were Scott with us today he would have appreciated the Veterans Day parade Monday in downtown Riverton. He wrote exciting verse about battles and the men who fought them, and later in life wrote gripping tales of triumph and tragedy on battlefields. "Ivanhoe" is the best-known of Scott's works today.

The great poignancy of a veterans parade is the declining numbers of one group and the growing numbers of another. The Marine Corps League's familiar red blazers were fewer this year. We still have World War II veterans among us in Fremont County, but if they are in any parades nowadays, it's probably in an open car or on a trailer pulled by a pickup truck. Even the Vietnam vets are graying now.

It is highly probable that the Veterans Day observed nationwide on Monday was the first without a living World War I veteran. Inaccuracies of record keeping nearly a century ago make it possible that a veteran or two of "The Great War" is still alive, but there are no verifiable records of any left.

Veterans Day is an outgrowth of World War I, celebrated on the anniversary of that awful conflict's end Nov. 11, 1918. That's 95 years ago.

Any surviving veteran from "over there" would be ancient. The last known American veteran of World War I died two years ago at age 110, and the final authenticated person who served in uniform during the war apparently was a woman who died last year in England, also at age 110. They served as teenagers.

Nothing can stop, interrupt or even slow the passage of time, which now has progressed to the point that the tens of millions of people worldwide who fought or otherwise served in World War I have passed from the scene. And the day will come when the dozen confident, vigorous young troops in camouflage attire who strode the parade route Monday will dwindle, slow and falter as each parade comes and goes.

All the more reason to observe Veterans Day. The World War I veterans no longer can, so we must do the job ourselves, not just for them but for the veterans of the wars that preceded them and those that have followed.

More than 200 years ago, Sir Walter Scott wrote:

"Soldier, rest!

"Thy warfare o'er,

"Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,

"Dream of battled fields no more,

"Days of danger, nights of waking."

The nature of man -- the willingness and desire to serve in uniform, and the political, diplomatic and social ambitions and failures that lead to wars -- mean that we will probably never run out of veterans, even as we have, finally, lost all those who served in the "the war to end all wars."

So we watch the parade of veterans, wistful for the old, anxious for the new, grateful for them all.

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MAIL SUBSCRIBERS: Tuesday's edition of The Ranger was delivered to the Riverton post office at 3:27 p.m., in time to meet the postal deadline for next-day mail delivery.

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