World War I ended on November 11, 1918. In November 1919 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m. Today, Veteran’s Day is still celebrated, 96 years after that proclamation.
I want to honor the bravest veteran I ever met. He was born June 13, 1924 in the tiny town of Kingman, Kansas. He abandoned his life’s dream to become an optometrist to enlist in World War II on his 18th birthday. He was shipped to the South Pacific, where he flew a communications plane to the Island of Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands. His assignment was to last six months. But after his communications outpost was destroyed by Japanese fire, he was stranded, along with 300 men. Three years later, after the end of the war, this veteran was rescued, along with 16 others.
He saw 283 of the 300 men in his unit die, either by Japanese bombing, disease, or starvation. Entering the War at 200 pounds, he weighed 130 at the time of his rescue. Awarded several medals for his heroic service, this veteran rarely talked about his service or sacrifice. He epitomized his generation. He lived with the horrors of war and disease of the islands until his early death at the age of 55.
Between the war and his death, he found time to marry a fellow Kansan, start a successful business, and raise two boys. I am one of those boys. On this day when we celebrate veterans, I think of one whom I wish was still here. Born the day after George H.W. Bush, he lived a quiet life, was a wonderful friend, businessman, husband, and father. He never lived a day void of the pain inflicted by the War, but he never complained about it either.
Lester I. Denison was an American hero, faithful husband, and consummate father. His greatness was America’s greatness. Because he gave much and had little, we can give little and have much. The Bible says to honor our parents. No one was ever easier to honor than my dad, a veteran of the greatest generation. Lester I. Denison was, and will forever be, an American hero.