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November 3, 1998

One week from Wednesday, on November 11, Perry will be observing Veterans Day, a legal or public holiday designated through the U.S. to honor all the men and women who were in military service during any engagement joined by this country. As I have stated here before, technically there are no national holidays in this country. Each state has jurisdiction over its holidays, but this one is declared just about everywhere. It has a very special meaning to veterans and their families.

Thanks in large measure to our newly revived Perry American Legion post, Veterans Day is being given greater emphasis locally than was the case for a few years, when most of our veterans' organizations were in limbo. The Legion hopes the community will join them in paying tribute to the patriots who served their country in time of need. Thousands of them paid the supreme sacrifice and we must never forget that.

Veterans Day brings back a flood of memories to anyone who was touched by times of military service in the past. To Leona Stahl, it is a time to sift through a personal collection of memorabilia dating back to October 29, 1940, when the U.S. activated a peacetime draft to bolster its armed forces in the wake of Axis threats in Europe. Numbers were drawn that day from a fish bowl in Washington, D.C., to determine the sequence in which young men would be called to service. Leona's husband-to-be, Albert G. Stahl, had the distinction of holding registration No. 158 in Payne county and thus became the first man selected from that county. All registrants in the U.S. holding card No. 158 would be the first to be called up. Stahl was working in Yale at the time and thus had registered at the Payne county selective service board.

Following service with the Army in World War II, including combat duty in the European Theater of War, Albert was honorably discharged as a technician fifth grade on June 30, 1945, at Camp Chaffee, Ark. A few days later, he and the former Leona Jones were married. Leona remembers the joy of that occasion very well.

"He told me not to come to Camp Chaffee because he would not be permitted to see me," she tells. "The men were being given shots and run through a gas (chamber) for de-bugging. Then on his arrival home in Perry -- Jimmy and Punk Henderson, Cecil and Sally Wallace, Harry and Leona Wright were all watching TV. A cap came sailing into the front room, and in he came! Well, it didn't take me long to get out of that chair."

Leona has retained a large number of newspapers, clippings and other articles from that period, some of them now fragile and getting close to 60 years old; and she handles each one fondly. Her husband died November 10, 1962, one day before Veterans Day, but through these keepsakes she is able to rekindle thoughts of many happy times, and some stressful times too. "I have many letters from him saying 'Oh, hear Jerry (the Germans) coming. I have to put my candle out'," Leona. relates. For months, he was never far from the enemy and the front line. On a lighter note, he wrote that he was in Munich, Germany, when he learned that the Nazis had surrendered. "He said after hearing the news, he threw his rifle in the river because he was so tired of carrying it, sleeping with it and cleaning it," Leona says.

Veterans Day, or Armistice Day as it was called originally, will help us recall that heroism and the pledge to national service freely made by hundreds of thousands of young Americans through the years. It falls on November 11 each year because on that date in 1918, Germany and her partners signed a peace covenant, an armistice, with the Allies and thus ended World War I. In more recent times the day has been set aside to honor all service men and women, of every war. We need this holiday to keep us mindful of the price that has been paid to protect the freedom that all of us take for granted today. Our thanks to Albert G. Stahl and all the others like him through the years who have given themselves for the rest of us, and to the Perry American Legion post for helping us observe the day in a proper way.