- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 10, 2012

There are, oh, so many stories to tell this Veterans Day weekend.

Some are about soldiers like 90-year-old Floyd Howard Siler Sr., who landed in Normandy, France, on D-Day, eventually came to the nation’s capital to raise his family and is among the many veterans of the aging “Greatest Generation,” and other stories are about individual men and women like 26-year-old Cpl. Elmer Kidd, who was killed in the Korean War.

Whatever the story, told or untold, this is the weekend designated to honor them and say two simple words: “Thank you.”

Unlike Memorial Day, the federal holiday in May during which we generally focus on lives lost, Veterans Day has been our annual observance for living military servicemen and women since Nov. 11, 1919.

Originally called Armistice Day in recognition of the anniversary of the end of Word War I, Veterans Day urges us to salute all living service members, the very people who share your house of worship, live down the block, work at the local grocer or beauty shop, teach our children, who did exactly what was asked of them — serve their country.

The story of Mr. Siler started in a little more than 90 years ago. Born in the central North Carolina town of the same name, Mr. Siler began his military service in 1942, the year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and by 1944 had become a member of the highly skilled barrage balloon crew. His all-black unit in the segregated Army first saw combat when it was assigned to Utah and Omaha beaches.

Military service isn’t a favorite topic of Mr. Siler, his daughter, Brenda Brenda, told me the other day.

So in honor of his 90th birthday, she pulled togethed a brief bio of sorts (and some information that’s part of a forthcoming book on blacks and the military.)

His job and that of his fellow crewmen was to provide protective shield for key installations to prevent low-level air attacks by tethering and deploying balloons so that enemy planes risked striking their aircraft on the wires and cables tied to the balloons.

“The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion was unique at Normandy for two reasons,” Ms. Siler, who grew up in the District, wrote. “First, it was the first barrage balloon unit in France and second, it was the first black unit in the segregated American Army to come ashore on D-Day.

Highly skilled, the men of this unit manned in crews of three instead of the usual four.

“When they were told they were going to land in France to protect the invasion beaches, the soldiers quickly realized that the standard [very-low altitude] balloon was too heavy and cumbersome to lug ashore from a landing craft,” she wrote. “The soldiers redesigned the apparatus to be more lightweight with handles [to] be brought ashore by one man.”

Mr. Siler might not brag about it, but the pride of his daughter is hardly masked when she points out that his anti-aircraft heroics earned him several medals, including two Bronze Stars, and that he served in the European and Pacific theaters, “a rare thing.”

Neither her dad nor the other men and women who served and are serving need say a word about patriotic sacrifices.

We should be handing out thank-you notes.

Story Continues →