On November 11th each year we pause to honor our nation’s veterans.

In our home, like so many others in North Carolina, pictures of family members who served line our shelves — two fathers, three uncles, cousins, a brother-in-law, and my grandfather — are among them. 

My 18-year-old grandfather had fought in France in WWI a young NC farm boy whose Wildcat Division watched the carnage of war on the front lines of the battlefields and in the trenches.  

We added new pictures from our trip to the Normandy beaches and the D-Day battlefields. The images of the white crosses of the American cemetery there now live in our hearts and minds as well. We stood on the sacred ground and walked among the fallen where over 9,000 heroes rest by the sea. 

Their names are from many nationalities, all parts of America and — and as some markers note of the fallen — a soldier “known only to God.”

They rest quietly now – guns silenced – after helping comrades from around the globe free Europe from the hatred of the Nazis and their allies, who were determined to rule and conquer the world. 

I am thankful for all who have answered the call to serve in this and every armed conflict where Americans have labored, fought, and far too often, given their lives. 

So once again today, we make a solemn pledge not to forget them — not those who have served before or those who are serving today and their families as well. 

I’m very proud that my late brother-in-law — Lt. Col. James Van Strien — never stopped working for his comrades and with other vets helped establish the wonderful USO facility at Raleigh Durham’s airport, so our troops, their families and others could take a small bit of comfort as they traveled to deployments across the world. His special forces/airborne combat service had trained him well to watch out for his fellow brothers and sisters in the military. Jim’s picture hangs on a wall there.  

Private Oscar C. Rhoades, World War I.

About a year after he died, my husband and I were at RDU waiting for our flight to depart when an announcement came over the loudspeakers explaining that one of our fallen soldiers was being loaded onto his final flight home. They said if any passengers in the airport would like to view this ceremony — they might move to the left side of the airport near the gate to witness the event.

Silently, respectfully, hundreds of people slowly moved to view the goodbye. Many onlookers were visibly touched as they watched the flag-draped casket being loaded on the plane.

The terminal fell virtually silent.

This is something I will never forget. 

And I know, my brother-in-law Jim would have been so pleased to see this—a tribute to one of America’s veterans…going home.

Karen Hayes Rotterman is a native North Carolinian, former college professor, director, and communications business owner.