A Sign of Time on Veteran’s Day – Remembering, Honoring, and Gratitude

On Veteran’s Day, I looked at my iPhone to check the time. It happened to read 11:11 November 11. This time oddity caught my attention. The sight of three 11s at once seemed significant. I snapped a photo of my home screen, not knowing how long until the last second of the minute would pass and time would change.

At first glance, the 11’s reminded me of the twin towers’.

Later that afternoon, when researching Veteran’s Day, I learned “the major hostilities” of WWI on the Western Front officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of November, the 11th month of the year, 100 years before, in 1918, when the Armistice of Germany went into effect and Allies of WWI and Germany signed an agreement – and hence “Armistice Day” was created. (In 1954 the United States government re-named the honorary day to Veterans Day.)

“Wow, the time was significant,” I thought, and felt it was a sign.

Veterans Day, Western Europe and specifically, Germany, led me to thinking of different wars and times in addition to WWI and WWII, in other centuries, and events which sparked war, often by those who would later become war veterans. Many of these people, and of course I am not referring to those like Adolf Hitler or the like of him or any racist, but those fighting specifically against racism, initiated war, I believe, not because they wanted it but rather felt war was the last means to the freedoms they sought and believed right regarding governmental policies, equal Civil Rights, and religion. They fought in all ways to prevent physical fighting yet were not willing to relent, compromise or back down on important issues due to fear of themselves dying or losing all they loved.

Specifically, one such circumstance, during the English Revolution of 1688 and 1689, during the Boston revolt in the ‘Dominion of New England,’ which, at the time included New Amsterdam (now New York City) on the night of June 2, 1689, supporters of England’s King James II were upon seizing Fort William (where official government documents and funds were held) to massacre their Dutch fellow-citizens, when an armed mob gathered to overthrow the existing government.

Crying “Leisler,” the group rushed to the New Amsterdam home of my 8x great grandfather, Captain Jacob Leisler, a German born American colonist, the son of a Calvinist French Reformed minister. Leisler, eighteen years old at the time of immigration, and without his parents, had become a self made military captain, wealthy merchant and trader. He often aided – financially and emotionally – the same people that were then asking him to take control of the city and ultimately the entire province from appointees of King James II.

Popular and probably the only wealthy resident in the province sympathizing with the Dutch lower classes (Leisler was often known to pay for the freedom of slaves from Africa and/or white people from elsewhere who had arrived to New Amsterdam who could not pay ship fees), Leisler was, within an hour, in possession of the keys of the fort, which had been seized. Four hundred of the new party signed an agreement to hold the fort “for the present Protestant power that reigns in England,” while ten people comprising a committee of the city freeholders assumed the powers of a provisional government, declaring Jacob Leisler in charge, commissioning him “captain of the fort” (today known as the Battery in Lower Manhattan).

Thus began the period known as ‘Leisler’s Rebellion,’ in the midst of England’s Glorious Revolution. During the time of the Rebellion, a revolt reflecting colonial resentment against King James II, Leisler called the first Inter Colonial Congress in America and brokered the largest New York land deal to date for immigrant Huguenots to settle on while Colonel Nicholas Bayard, (the sixteenth mayor of the city and a man ironically a man related to Leisler through Peter Stuyvesant), escaped the city to avoid assassination.

When an English major landed with two companies of soldiers, demanding the fort back, Leisler refused. Leisler and a group of men, including his son in law, Jacob Milborne, bearing the same first name, were arrested and imprisoned for treason and murder. When Royal authority was restored, a trial was held. Leisler and Milborne fought for their lives against judges who were political enemies under the influences of England, excessive alcohol, and ties of family, “whose acts were described as ‘inhuman and gross.’”

Before Leisler and Milborne were executed by hanging, Leisler made a long speech, stating that he acted “for the glory of the Protestant interest, the establishment of the present government, and to protect the province from outside forces.” The new government seized Leisler’s land, which he’d set up for French Huguenot refugees. That land later became the town known today as New Rochelle. In 2013 a monument of Leisler was erected there. The Leisler Institution in New Rochelle holds Leisler’s letters and memorabilia, and others pertaining to the Leisler Rebellion period. The lower part of Manhattan, “the Battery,” which Leisler also owned, was in addition confiscated by the English, later returned to his son. Posthumously, the names of Leisler and his son in law were cleared and their bodies reinterred in the Dutch Church in New York, and in the early 20th century several plays were written and played in Leisler’s name, one being “A Story of Old New York.”

Just shortly before Leisler’s Rebellion, not far away from New Amsterdam, in Hartford, Connecticut, on the night of October 31, 1687, another ancestor of mine, Captain Joseph Wadsworth, according to the legend of the Charter Oak, spirited the Royal Charter of 1662 out of Sanford’s Tavern and the hold of Sir Edmund Andros, raced across the bridge over the Little River and hid it in the hollow of an ancient oak tree on the grounds of Samuel Wyllys’ home in Hartford. To many 19th-century defenders of the legend, the hiding of the Charter was a precursor for the later, more widespread, defense of colonial rights that led to the American Revolution and independence. It is telling that Hartford, Connecticut’s residents resisted the attempt by an agent of the British crown to illegally take their rights.

Less than one hundred years later, on May 20, 1775, in opposition of England’s control, my 4th great grandfather, Joseph Vose, born and raised in Milton, Massachusetts, led a group of 60 men on a mission to burn a light house in Boston Harbor. He was later chosen Colonel of the 1st Massachusetts Regiment and became part of General George Washington’s staff, fighting beside Washington at the Battle of Yorktown.

From Williamsburg on March 25, 1781, General Marquis de Lafayette wrote Colonel Vose: “It is my wish that you have the detachment in the most perfect readiness tomorrow. Should his excellency the Commander in Chief in consequence of having heard of the British fleet send orders for the return of the despatches which will be be opened by my aid-de-camp, I desire the you will not as before directed put them in execution til further notices from me, as it’s improbable  that the Commander in Chief can be acquainted with this last circumstance relative to the meetings of the fleets. I request you will present this to his Excellency, Gov’ Lee and to Commander Nicholson, the Commanding Officer of the the Reg and my two aid-de-camps. I have the honor  to be your obedient servant, Lafayette.”

I was reminded, too, of how veterans, though time, inspire other generations of veterans. My 2nd great grandfather, Colonel Osgood Vose Tracy, of the 122nd New York State Volunteers, who fought in the American Civil War from 1862-1865, wrote after the Battle of the Wilderness, “At that moment, in the bloodshed and horror, fighting the enemy face to face with bayonet, sword, and rifle, less than five feet apart, I thought of my great grandfather Vose at the Battle of Yorktown, took courage and fought on.”

About the same time before the American Revolution, my 4th great grandfather, Colonel John Bayard, a delegate from Pennsylvania, who my grandfather, John Bayard Tracy, was named, was elected to the convention of Pennsylvania in July 1774, and re-elected in 1775. This group, originally the revolutionary counter to the official assembly, eventually replaced it as the legislature for the new government. When regiments were raised for the defense of Philadelphia in 1775, John became Colonel of the second regiment. In 1776, when the convention became a constitutional assembly, he was named to the Committee of Safety. In March 1777, he became a member of the state’s Board of War, and Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, re-elected in 1778.

In the meantime, the law firm he co-founded, Hedge & Bayard, became one of the firms under contract with the Continental Congress to supply the Continental Army.  John himself fitted out a ship sent out as a privateer. But, in the fall of 1777, the British occupied Philadelphia. Bayard moved his family to a farm at Plymouth, Pennsylvania and took to the field with his regiment, which fought at the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Princeton. General Washington cited Colonel Bayard for his gallant leadership in the Battle of Princeton.

In 1781, Bayard became head of the Board of War, and joined the state’s Executive Council. Under Pennsylvania’s 1776 Constitution this was a sort of combination of the roles of a governor’s cabinet and the state Senate. In 1785 Bayard was elected to the Congress of the Confederaton, the successor of the Continental Congress. He served in 1785 and 1786, attending their meetings in New York.

In the 20th century, my grandfather, John Bayard Tracy, thankfully did not serve in wartime but like his brothers, attended Culver Military School. During WWII, his youngest brother, Marine Colonel, Charles “Ted,” Sedgwick Tracy II, saw action at Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jimo. A quartermaster, Ted was in charge of planning and getting supplies by boat to three marine divisions, landing on dangerous beaches and foreign land. For a job well done he was awarded the Legion of Merit. I recall my Uncle Ted with only a smile on his face and zest for life. He rarely spoke of his own war ordeal yet gladly spoke of the experiences of those ancestors who fought before him.

My grandmother and grandfather’s youngest son, John Bayard Tracy Jr., a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, who loved to fly, would go on to give his life for our country when, while co-piloting a plane on a SAC mission back from Russia during the Cold War on February 9, 1962, it exploded, killing him and all other six men on board, their bodies never able to be recovered. I consider my Uncle John and all those on board that fateful day veterans of war and am very proud of their passion and service.

On each Veterans Day while I was growing up, I recall my parents and grandparents honoring the day, by speaking of it and bringing plants and flags to the cemetery. I have always enjoyed attending ceremonies and parades in honor of those living war veterans and those deceased. It is important for veterans to see that they are not forgotten, that their services in wartime to our country and our freedoms were not in vain. I hope that I have instilled in my three sons that whenever they see a veteran with a hat on to thank them for their service. Shake their hand. Talk to them. Get to know them and a bit about their service if they so allow.

And of course it is not only living veterans and/or those veterans killed in action that deserve recognition. It is their family – spouses, parents, children, grandchildren – and friends, affected by the sacrifice that service men and women made and make, leaving their homes, those they love and love them, and especially, of course, those that never came home.

I am grateful this Veterans Day and Thanksgiving for the generations of those veterans that fought and protected the freedoms we have today in our country and pray that the many battles of days and wars before, in both war time and that leading up to war – in fighting ground to ground, face to face, air to air – today and moving forward will be with the use of words and a shake of the hands.

*

Veterans Reunion Speech

Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient

Brevet-Major William Gardiner Tracy

122nd New York State Volunteers

“We meet today, the veteran survivors, to commemorate the most notable events of our lives; the noblest acts of our career; to recount the dangers that we have passed; to relate our former triumphs won, and to mourn for our heroes fallen.

We have all borne our part in the heat and burden of the day of strife. We have all endured the long and weary, dusty march; we have dropped to earth almost too tired to rise again; we have shivered through the night in the cold and wet bivouac, and frequently suffered the real pangs of hunger and thirst. 

To us all the sharp ring of a rebel bullet has been a familiar sound, as well as the dull and sickening thud that announced the bullet had reached its mark; the very earth has sometimes trembled under our feet from the discharges of musketry and artillery; we have known the despair of defeat and felt the blood pounding through our veins as we joined in the surging wave of victory. 

Once more, sometimes as a strain of martial music strikes the ear, or a discharge of cannon is heard, a vision arises before us of other summers, of fields of yellow grain and tangled forests; once more we see the serried lines of gray and blue, we hear the shriek of the shell and the yell of the rebel charging column, and once again the tragedy of violent and immediate death of well-beloved comrades is enacted before our eyes.

We shall never cease to feel a thrill of pride so long as we continue to breathe, that in the morning of our lives, when everything was at its brightest and its best, when the dew was on the flower and the night was on the wave, when life was still “the roses hope while yet unknown,” that we were willing to sacrifice it all for the love of our common country. 

That we were willing to give up the full pleasures of this world which we had just begun to experience as men, to throw down our work, to destroy the careers we had marked out for ourselves, and all for no other purpose than to preserve intact the nation that gave us birth.

Our lives were as sweet, our happiness as dear to us then as life and happiness are now to the men who walk our streets to-day, yet were we willing to surrender all, without hesitation and without scruple.”

 

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