Old Top remembered with respect on Veteran’s Day

Jim Lee: Local Columnist

As most of us know, Friday was Veterans Day. The observance was originally called Armistice Day because it marked the end of hostilities of World War I, up to that time the bloodiest and most widespread war in human history.
That first global conflict finally stopped with the Treaty of Versailles on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Some returning veterans marched in victory parades while other returning veterans watched the parades from their wheel chairs, and many lay in their graves.

Later the day became a national observance in the USA honoring all veterans, not just the people who served during the first world war, including people I served with.
I joined the Army about 42 years ago and was placed in the infantry. (It sure doesn’t seem that long ago.)

My first sergeant in basic training was a World War II veteran. In recognition of his experience, our company commander relaxed a rule about only officers being called “sir,” so most of us called our grizzled top kick “sir” instead of “sergeant.”

He was one of the 101st Airborne guys at Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. He had more ribbons than a maypole and a diagonal scar across his face that guaranteed he’d never forget the Germans.

Old Top was quite a character. When I say old, remember this is from the perspective of an 18-year-old so wet behind the ears he could shampoo without water. If he’s still with us (and I like to think he is), he’s well into his 80s now, but back then he was probably in his early 40s.

The other recruits and I used to joke around that he probably had his stripes and hash marks tattooed so he’d have them on in the shower.

I recall one day Top said his new car would soon be at the dealer for pick up. He’d been bragging for weeks how he had a car on special order that would be in any day. Well, the big day finally arrived. Old Top was more excited than I was over my Hopalong Cassidy lunch box a few years earlier. He looked so proud when he drove that new Plymouth into the company area wearing his class A uniform and beaming like he just won the Irish Sweepstakes.

The special order? Well, it wasn’t for expensive accessories, big engine or the like. What made it special order was the paint job. Old Top bought himself a brand new car and had it painted olive drab, that dull Army green.
I’m glad nobody laughed at the first sergeant’s new pride and joy. I’m glad we showed him that much respect. Even our company commander, a first lieutenant in his early 20s, showed the man the respect he had so righteously earned helping kick Hitler’s backside and later serving in the Korean War.

Who knows, maybe Old Top volunteered for a tour in ’Nam after he taught us in basic training how to narrow the odds in getting ourselves bumped off. I often wonder whatever happened to him.

I hope everyone shows respect to our veterans and supports those young people becoming veterans — whether they support the war or not.

I didn’t do anything worthy of noting in the military. I just did what I was told and stayed out of trouble. The Army called that “serving honorably.” Others, such as Old Top, gave and gave up so much, and they have earned our respect.
The next time you see a grave with a little flag, think about that.

Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: