Tennessee Mountain Stories

Say Thank You to a Vet

I am posting this article earlier than usual because I wanted to be sure to be on time for Veteran’s Day.  This is a holiday we need to pause to recognize those brave men and women who have fought for our nation; they deserve our attention for at least one day each year.  However, I found myself struggling to find the words; I started the article two or three times but couldn’t get it just right. Then, as I was baking a rather pitiful Happy Birthday cake for a very appreciative Marine (the USMC turned 240 years old yesterday and it turns out Marines don’t care so much if their cake is pretty so long as it’s sweet!), I suddenly realized that it is the effort – the service - that we must recognize and appreciate even if the words are not especially eloquent.

We are now more than 150 years past The American Civil War and seventy years past World War II, the stories of the common soldier are fading fast.  I really appreciate those people and organizations that have worked to preserve those stories and I’m always asking for them whenever I have a chance to talk with a veteran.  In fact, I’ve recently re-connected to one of my cousins who served in World War II and one of the first stories I wanted to hear from him was about his war-time experiences. (I’ll be sharing some of his stories over the coming weeks.)

Today I thought I’d share a little story with you about my great-great-grandfather, Philip Perie.  Now, if you read much of my stuff, you’ll often see glimpses of “Grandpa Perie” for his life, and the legends that live on about him are certainly story-material.

Grandpa Perie was born in 1822 – at least that’s what his tombstone says.  We wouldn’t usually doubt that date, but census records from the late 1800’s give ages that don’t correspond with that birthdate.  Still, he was born in Falerna, Italy and had at least one brother. 

Italy in the nineteenth century was a conglomeration of states ruled by foreign powers with a populace fighting for independence.  Therefore, the country was torn by one civil war after another.  I’m sure that every home had lost a father, husband or son to these wars and Mrs. Perie desperately wanted to give her own boys a better chance at life.  So, she worked her fingers to the bone to earn passage to bring them to America.  She first sent Joseph to America and he situated himself in Chicago, Illinois.  Then, in 1856 Philip followed and declared at the port of entry he was bound for Chicago.  He was already thirty-two years old, not an especially young man in those days.

So many immigrant stories begin with peasants buying passage to the promised-land only to arrive on our teeming shore to find the tired, poor, huddled masses were still pretty tired and poor.  And those fleeing from political unrest and persecution often found more of the same in America.  Yet, they came and they adopted America as their home and when war broke out, they chose a side and took a stand. 

I can’t even imagine what either Philip Perie or his mother must have felt when he’d been here just nine years and The American Civil War broke out.  I don’t know whether he enlisted immediately or waited until he was draft; whether he joined the Army for the regular paycheck, as many immigrants did, or if he truly believed in the cause of the union is lost to history.  But he fought and for the rest of his life he was proud of that service. 

I’m including a couple of pictures of Grandpa Perie in front of a giant flag; I don’t know if the Uncle-Sam-look is by design or perhaps the iconic recruiting mascot is modelled after Philip’s generation.  Even with so many questions remaining, doesn’t this old man simply exude patriotism?  Doesn’t he rather make you want to take your own stand for liberty?

Our brave soldiers, sailors and Marines have marched into battle for many different reasons over the years and every one of them ought to be remembered with great pride.  There are many things I would change in our nation today if I had the power, and our liberties do seem to be under attack on many sides.  But we still enjoy the greatest freedom on earth and that freedom has never been free.

Please say thank you to a vet today.