Armistice Day: 1946

“Jackson!” I heard my new fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Sharpe call me after she dismissed class for the day. "Tomorrow there will be an assembly for the entire school. A student from each grade will make a short presentation to honor Armistice Day. I would like for you to recite a poem from memory. Take this home tonight and memorize it. I am certain you will do a fine job."

That previous spring of 1946, my family had moved into the first home we had ever owned--a lake house in Garrard County, Kentucky. Herrington Lake was a summer resort, and we were one family of the few full-time residents in the entire area. Although our board-and-batten house with a large screened porch facing the beautiful lake was not fancy, it was ours--and we were proud to have it.

Houses were in great demand after the war. Over a million soldiers were returning home, all bent on starting families and living normal lives. Our house cost about $3,000, sold to us by the Buick dealer in Lexington, Shug Glenn. Mr. Glenn sold it partly from a sense of patriotism as well as his friendship with my soldier father.

I had finished the fourth grade at Buena Vista, a nearby school named for the great victory in the Mexican War of 1846 in which many Kentuckians had played significant roles. My mother was not particularly pleased with the school. She decided for the next school year I would attend the highly regarded Burgin Independent School in neighboring Mercer County.

I started fifth grade in Burgin the day after Labor Day. I was the new boy in the class of about 30, a familiar status (four schools in the fourth grade alone). By November, I had become the star student and was the teacher's pet for now.

On the bus ride home, I read the poem. It was not too long but had lots of big words for a 10-year-old boy to memorize. Immediately at home I gave the poem to my mother, and she set right away to have me read the stanzas out loud. By suppertime, I knew it by heart. At bedtime I recited it many times in my head.

The morning arrived cold and clear. I dressed in a cable knit sweater knitted by my mother. Underneath I wore a starched white shirt with an Eaton collar. I knew this was called an Eaton collar but only vaguely knew why. As always, I wore khaki trousers--not blue jeans, as my mother would say, “Heaven forbid!” Assembly was in the gymnasium. Folding chairs were aligned on the basketball court with the stage overlooking all. Each of the 12 grades had short presentations. When my turn came for the fifth grade, I mounted the stage and took my position. As my mother had instructed me, I looked over the entire audience of more than 300 students and teachers and paused for perhaps 30 seconds. Then, in as loud a voice as a small boy could raise, I slowly and deliberately recited the famous poem by John McCrae.  I do not recall if there was applause. Probably not because the occasion was rather church-like. But Mrs. Sharpe was smiling and nodding to me. I was pleased to have done my worthy assignment well. 

The Poem