Kanwal Prakash Singh , INDIANAPOLIS : Each year on Veterans Day, we think of our men and women who served in various branches of the American Armed Forces. We remember and salute their exemplary valor and sacrifices to our nation and the world that led them to major conflicts that threatened peace and the survival of our world since the founding of our nation. We proudly recount the bravery of World War II (WWII) veterans and rightly honor them as the “Greatest Generation” of Americans, for they have assured American greatness in war and peace and immeasurably nurtured the freedoms that we cherish and enjoy at home and in nations around the world.
MEET SERGEANT JOSEPH FRANK SCHNOPLE
Among the survivors of WWII are many who served as the backbone of military campaigns in horrific conflicts. Their names do not always appear on celebrated rosters. One of them is Retired Sergeant Joe Schnople of Durham, North Carolina, formerly of Bay City, Michigan. Sergeant Schnople is my wife’s uncle who served with the Allied Forces fighting against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during WWII in Africa and Italy. Sergeant Schnople served as a combat infantryman in the Italian Campaign and was later redeployed to the 103rd Signal Construction Battalion. Each time I see Uncle Joe, I am reminded of my uncle, Havaldar Kartar Singh who served in the same war theater with the British forces, and I often wonder if their paths ever crossed during their service to free the world of the Nazi assault on human civilization.
TRIANGLE FLIGHT OF HONOR
When we met last June in Washington, D.C., Uncle Joe shared details of a recent memorable experience. He was invited along with 102 other WWII veterans from North Carolina to travel to Washington, D.C. as honored guests on the eighth and final Triangle Flight of Honor from Raleigh, NC to visit the recently dedicated WWII Memorial on the National Mall, other memorials, and Arlington National Cemetery. The Triangle Flights of Honor were funded by generous donors, non-profit organizations, and friends in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area.
Uncle Joe, now 92 years old, was excited and deeply moved by the once-in-a-lifetime experience of being with other fellow veterans, sharing visits to monuments and memorials, laying a wreath at the Iwo Jima Memorial, an event and an image of incredible valor that is seared in the American memory. Uncle Joe offered other details of the Triangle Flight of Honor: a Water Gun Salute to their chartered plane, a Mail Call (letters and packages from family members for each soldier) during the return flight, and the thunderous welcome at the Raleigh International Airport by over 4,000 well-wishers by the North Carolina State band, flags and banners, joyful expressions and family reunions. This was a scene of joyful thanksgiving, a hearty welcome and salute to the warriors who offered us an uncommon testimony of love, service, and honor of country above all else.
SERVICE, SACRIFICE, AND SAVING HUMANITY
It was not hard to be swept away by the power of emotions that filled our hearts as Uncle Joe recounted the details of this recent moving experience and thoughtful acknowledgement of our veterans’ service. He recounted that his unit after the successful Italian Campaign was deployed and set sail for the invasion of Japan on the transport ship, USS Sea Fiddler. The Ship was anchored in Leghorn (Livorno), Italy and later moving westward past the Strait of Gibraltar when they heard the news the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which led to the Japanese surrender in August 1945. Their ship was in the Atlantic, when they heard the general alarm in the middle of the night: “Attention USS Sea Fiddler you will deviate from your course and head for Boston USA.”
The WWII generation of Americans and the Allied Forces saved the world from continued unspeakable crimes against humanity and ended the blind ambitions and criminal intentions of Adolf Hitler. WWII was a costly victory. It is hard to fathom the full magnitude of suffering and devastation, deaths of millions of civilians (over six million in the Jewish Holocaust alone) and Allied soldiers that included over 444,000 Americans and 89,000 Sikhs in WWII. We remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice with deep gratitude. That makes honoring surviving veterans who served in WWII (1939-1945), now a rapidly diminishing number, as an important responsibility and privilege.
LIFE, GRATITUDE, FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY
I was happy to see Uncle Joe along with his family this summer. At times, he was pensive, as if his memory and spirit had traveled far away. He is in remarkable health and has a positive spirit, very grateful to have survived the horrors of a tragic war; he has been productive ever since. He delights in sharing his personal story; his words resonate with pride of the solemn experiences and sacrifices of his entire generation. He said, “How young we were and how much we accomplished; we became wise and grow up fast; I feel a sense of awe and pride.”
This humble soldier, family man, father and grandfather, a man of deep and abiding faith, is a respected elder of our family. I am honored to know Uncle Joe, who has always shown great understanding of other people; he knows no strangers, whether one is of the Sikh faith, Punjabi heritage, any other ethnicity, culture, or national origin. He understands the true meaning of the divine message that, we are all God’s children and need hope, faith, and love. Like countless other veterans, Uncle Joe exemplifies grace, character, dignity, and the true American spirit. For me, his life and our visits put my life and lessons in perspective.
All those who have served this great Nation deserve our eternal gratitude, for in their sacrifices and triumphs rests the strength and future destiny of this great Nation. We take this moment to remember the veterans of every major conflict and of every nation, all who righteously braved the dangers in theaters of war to set the course of human history toward a more hopeful future.
We remember and honor the families that stood like a rock alongside the soldiers and martyrs during their call to duty in defense of threatened freedoms and sacred rights of fellow citizens.