On November 11 we honor the men and women who served their country in war. It’s a day to give personal thanks to any and all veterans. I, for one, will take a moment of silence to remember one man in particular.
My father, Gordon Hornsby. We were not born American, he did not live in the United States but visited me often here in Sammamish and had a special place in his heart for this town.
At the age of 20, he served the Canadian army in World War II. He was a good man.
I grew up knowing how proud my father was to have been a soldier. Some of my earliest memories involve hearing his story of selling five dozen hard-boiled eggs from inside his jacket and pockets as his battalion marched through Italy. Also being dropped in a field in Holland to run to the nearest town and eventually free the Dutch from Nazi occupation.
As I type this I wear a ring that he bought for 200 cigarettes to give to his mother if he ever made it home alive. Back then he was only 20, not old enough to give a ring to a girl.
Gordon Goforth Hornsby joined the army voluntarily, with a friend, knowing the fight for freedom called. He became a member of the 48th Highlanders, a group of Canadian infantrymen out of Toronto, famous for their pipes and drums, later known as the Dirty Four Dozen.
He marched across Italy into France and eventually to Holland where he was beyond proud of what they accomplished. Liberating the Dutch from Nazi occupation was the feather in my father’s cap that he would always wear with supreme honor. He loved the Dutch, they loved Canadians and it was a love affair that is still strong after 60years.
When we accompanied my father to Europe in 2004, a trip to Holland was the centerpiece in our itinerary. My husband, children, father and I visited the Canadian War Cemetary in Holten, the Netherlands, where 1,355 soldiers are buried. It was a solemn hour as we walked between the graves that day.
The town of Wilp still stands, as does the pub where the soldiers hid from German fire. The church in the tiny village has erected a plaque to commemorate my father’s unit who ran for their lives across a field and through a river, losing their sergeant to a bullet along the way.
My father took some shrapnel and his hearing would never be the same after the war but that day in Wilp was the one thing he was most proud of in his 81 years. Our wander through the village was profound, reverent.
The year he passed away, he’d just returned from the sixtieth reunion of the liberation of Holland. He’d travelled across the ocean with the 48th Highlanders, participated in parades, ceremonies, took hundreds of photos, made countless friends and hardly kept a dry eye the whole trip. I wish I’d accompanied him but I didn’t. He rode in a parade with a wonderful young Dutch man who was genuinely saddened to hear of my father’s passing three months later. This gentleman sent my family a photo album full of pictures of him and my dad on the one day they knew each other. Such kindness.
Yes, my father was a proud soldier. Serving in the war defined his life, made him who he was as a man and gave him a reason to always be proud of himself. The fact that he lived to marry, have children and teach us not to glamorize war but be thankful we live in a country where we can pursue our lives freely was a bonus.
Many do not make it back from war and on November 11, 2011, I invite you to join me in remembering all those who gave their lives for their country and all those who went to war prepared to die.
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
Martin Luther King Jr.