Photo Jolene Hawkins
By Elizabeth Riggs
On a flat, windy backroad in northwest Ohio, lives a 102-year-old woman named Elizabeth Casselman. For many in the community, my hometown, this remarkable lady is special for numerous reasons.
Elizabeth was a kindergarten teacher for more than 30 years, and enjoyed the evergreen popularity that goes along with a teaching career in a small town. She was also an active member of her church, a friend to many, and to me, a grandmother.
But for all, she is a hero, as a World War II Marine.
Grandma, who goes by “Betty,” was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, and living in Manhattan at the time of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. It was this historic event that prompted her, unmarried and working in the city, to enlist in the Marine Corps.
“War had been declared, and I figured as an individual, I had an obligation to do something,” she said.
Betty enlisted in 1942, was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and assigned to the aviation division. Her role was to teach young pilots how to distinguish the differences between allied and enemy aircraft, many of which had very minor differences.
“I would teach them by putting the silhouette of a plane on a projector screen. Of course, the room had to be dark. Invariably when the lights would come back on, some of them would be sound asleep. So, I said to them, ‘It’s your neck,’” she said.
My grandmother started as a private and worked her way up to sergeant in a matter of two years. She was later honorably discharged from the Marine Corp after the death of her father. She later married and settled in northwest Ohio, where she began her teaching career and started a family in a small, farm community far from her city roots and military experience.
This past September, Grandma Betty returned to Washington D.C. for the first time since her stint in the Marine Corps as a member of the Findlay, Ohio-based Flag City Honor Flight. The stops included the World War II Memorial, the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, and many other memorials along the National Mall.
Grandma Betty flew a U.S. flag outside of her house every day, and even still, stands for the presentation of the flag or the Battle Hymn of the Republic. But as the wife of an active duty Army soldier, with more than 20 years of service under his belt, my grandmother isn’t my only influence when it comes to recognizing service to country and honoring our veterans.
While many may think a sufficient way to honor service is through simple displays of patriotism, such as flying a flag or attending a parade, I’ve learned that there are far more effective ways.
Through my spouse, I’ve realized the importance of recognizing a veteran, whether it be through offering a friendly handshake and a thank you for service, or picking up a bill at a restaurant.
A simple conversation with a veteran about how long they served, where they were stationed, or what they did, makes a more lasting impression than an anonymous flag flying on a home. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have been out in public with my husband and we have just stood and talked to a veteran and his spouse.
When he sees a veteran with a hat covered in pins, or apparel noting service, these are just a few of the ways that he chooses to honor veterans, typically not even mentioning that he is one himself.
This Veterans Day, consider taking his example and honoring service by interacting with our local veterans and learning about the sacrifices they have made for our country.
A few opportunities for honor to service will present themselves this Saturday. Springville’s annual Veterans Day event includes a brief ceremony at Shuttleworth Park in downtown, where the World War I and World War II monuments lie.
The ceremony will start at 11 a.m., last approximately 15 minutes, and move to the American Legion for light refreshments afterwards.
Ellicottville will also hold an annual observance of the holiday on the Village Green in front of the gazebo, and Village and Town Halls. The short ceremony will be led by Dale Dunkleman of the American Legion Post 659, and a 21 gun salute to all heroes, both living and fallen. The ceremony will end with a memorial wreath placed on the lawn.
This Veterans Day, venture outside of your comfort zone and try being social as a way of paying respects. All of our Veterans surely did.