My father always felt that Veteran’s Day was a time to honor all veterans, not just “us old guys” as he would say. He was a U.S. Marine for 34 years and served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Every time someone thanked him for his service, he said,”Thank you, but be sure to thank the young men and women who are serving today.”
Maybe he remembered being a 17-year old high school graduate entering the Marines during WWII. But I think it was who he was, turning attention to those he thought more deserving of thanks.
He spoke at numerous veterans events over the years. The story below is about his final speaking engagement on Veteran’s Day 2017. I was honored to have had it published by Al.com in 2018 and would like to share it with you:
One Veteran’s final speech was a tribute to others
Veteran’s Day won’t be the same this year at Daphne Middle School.
The band will open the ceremonies with a medley of patriotic songs, and the choir will perform on the stage. The gym will be decorated in red, white, and blue. But the WWII veteran won’t be there to present the keynote remarks.
I was with him when he received the phone call of invitation to speak at Daphne Middle School in 2018. With crooked fingers, too large for the buttons, he answered his cell phone, “Oh yes, Mrs. Trawick, I remember you. Yes, I will be happy to speak again this year.” At age 93, his memory for people and names was spot on
For the past two years, Major Mordecai “Mawk” Arnold, a native of Fairhope who served in the Marine Corps during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, spoke at Daphne Middle School. He was honored as Fairhope’s Veteran of the Year in 2012 and the Mobile Bay Area Veteran of the Year in 2013.
And so the day came…
The old Marine pushed his newly-acquired walker into the shiny-clean school gym as the band warmed up.
The patriotic tune transported me back to Fairhope High School when we played John Philip Sousa marches. Daddy was on the sidelines with his movie camera poised onto his strong shoulders.
As I watched, a flood of nostalgia overtook me, tears stinging my eyes. His ever-present smile is fixed.
He’d dressed in his Marine Corps “blues,” the officer’s formal uniform worn for all official events. It still fit after all these years, although the buttons at the waist were tight. Getting ready, he’d said, “Look in my left pocket, I have a tool to help with that.” I retrieved the button hook made from a scrap of wire and helped him with the last task.
I asked him once why he wore the uniform instead of something more casual. He replied, “It cost me too much in 1961, so I want to get my money’s worth.”
I relaxed as we were seated close to the podium, thankful we were on the gym floor with no steps to maneuver. Invited guests, veterans, and their spouses faced us. An Air Force pilot was dressed in his flight jumpsuit. Several wore Vietnam-era caps. Some looked young enough to be students themselves.
The middle school students filed in quietly, orderly, into the bleachers. The school principal and administrators made opening remarks about the meaning and history of Veteran’s Day, beginning as Armistice Day, on the first anniversary of the end of the first World War.
The guest speaker teetered to the podium leaving his walker behind. His now stooped posture belied his strong voice and immediate command of the microphone. Having years of experience in Public Relations in the Marine Corps, he instantly engaged the audience.
The speaker addresses the audience
“Ma’am, are you here with your husband, who is a veteran?” he asked pointing to a woman seated in the front row. She nodded, and he asked how many spouses are here today? Several raised their hands. “Well, you’re all veterans too. You’ve supported your husbands and wives, making their service possible. And for that we thank you.”
“I’ll tell you the story of one Marine Corps wife,” he continued. “Her husband was deployed overseas before the end of the school year. She packed the house, sold one car, arranged for the family station wagon to be shipped to Japan, got the four children and their luggage from the East Coast to the West Coast, through several airport transfers. Arriving late at night to a hotel in San Francisco, she left the 15-month-old baby with his three older sisters in the room to go to the bar.”
He paused masterfully. I saw expressions change on the faces of the guests seated before him — wide eyes, furrowed brows. I thought I heard some hushed gasps. I watched the middle-schoolers turn towards the podium, suddenly more attentive, their backs straightening in the bleachers.
“You see the baby needed milk, and there were no convenience stores close by. The bartender gladly filled the baby’s bottle. She warmed it under the tap in the room.” After another pause, he continued… “So wives and husbands of the military have many obstacles to overcome. You are all veterans.”
He spoke extemporaneously, without notes, touching on different aspects of being a veteran of life. I felt nervous — he might go on too long and lose the audience.
Yet he stayed on task and concluded by telling the students that some of them may choose to go into the military. ” Just remember — no matter what you choose to do in life, if you do it to the very best of YOUR ability, you will be successful.”
I had heard him say that many times when meeting young people.
Daphne Middle School Veteran’s Day will never be the same
This year Daphne Middle School will plan and present an exceptional Veteran’s Day program. The students will be attentive and respectful, indicating a well-disciplined group. The band and choir will perform beautifully. A concluding video with music will honor all branches of service.
The World War II veteran who was an integral part of civic events in the Baldwin County area for so long won’t be there. He made his final speech in 2017.
A humble man, a proud Marine, a loving father…
I know how lucky I was to be there. Dad was a proud Marine who loved his country, his hometown, and his family.
To the news media and audiences, he deflected attention from himself to others — to young veterans, reminding the audience to thank men and women in service today; to spouses and families of servicemen and women as veterans too.
Veteran’s Day just won’t be the same. Nor will any day for that matter.