By Dana Delgado
BERTRAM — An idea proposed to honor military veterans moved Bertram Library Director Ann Brock to tears.
The idea, presented as a regional Veterans’ Day project by Marilyn Curtis representing the regional Alpha Chi Chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society, revolved around a charming yet powerful children’s book. The book, “America’s White Table” written by award-winning author Margot Theis Raven and published in 2005, introduced the public to a post-Vietnam War military tradition of honoring veterans including lost and missing veterans with a simple, but solemn and dignified remembrance exhibit. So impactful, the book sparked much discussion among families and communities and spearheaded a national movement for a public adoption of a “white table” tribute.
When Director Brock read the book, it hit home. She had lost her father, Gaylon Brizendine, only a year ago and he had been a very proud veteran who always participated in Veterans Day activities.
“Dad was there for us,” said Mrs. Brock, “and he was fun. He was caring, set a good example, and he took us places. He pushed us to do our best; he disciplined us when we did wrong, and he taught us how to have faith and how to make a difference.”
Mrs. Brock’s father also had a tremendous love for the land.
“I am sure that is why he loved farming and ranching so much,” she said, adding that her father was so beloved by countless children in Bertram for his kindness and support at every community activity especially sporting events that they called him “Papa.”
“He was my hero,” she said. Her uncle, Blanton Brizendine, and father-in-law, Travis Brock, were also World War II veterans and son, Aaron Brock, is an Iraq-era veteran.
Like many veterans, Gaylon Brizendine never spoke about his experiences, his memories or his pain from World War II. They remained unspoken until his final months.
“My Dad struggled with many of his friends dying right beside him,” Mrs. Brock said. “It bothered him deeply.”
Gaylon Brizendine, who had been born in the Gabriel Mills area and attended school in Andice, volunteered for service at 18 years of age in 1944 as war raged in Europe and the Pacific. He had hoped to join the Navy like his older brother Blanton, but found out he had been signed-up for service in the Army instead. So the slender, gentle natured, red-haired young man was shipped to the frontlines in the Far East with the 32nd Infantry Division as a mortar man. His unit saw fierce fighting in the Philipines, and later in Japan engaged Japanese soldiers after the official surrender.
“I remember him telling me that his unit fought for 28 days straight,” Mrs. Brock said. “They had to stay on alert and couldn’t even take off their shoes. He talked about enemies hiding in caves in the mountains and their unit having to get them out. Dad fought in the Battles of Leyte and Luzon and was also in Manila.”
The 32nd Infantry Division was the first to enter the war and logged a total of 654 days of combat during WWII — more than any other U.S. army division. The division’s renowned Red Arrow shoulder patch signified that the division had pierced every line it had encountered and knew about fighting without support.
That is why this Veterans Day idea has taken on special meaning for Ann Brock.
The idea presented to her comes from the heartwarming book, which sensitively tells the story of a family who honors an uncle — a veteran — and his fallen comrades. In the story, the family sets a table filled with symbols of a veteran’s service, sacrifice and sorrow with particular emphasis on the plight of those missing in action and prisoners of war.
Austin resident Mike Benny, the recipient of two Gold Medals from the Society of Illustrators, masterfully illustrates the story.
The focus of the remembrance and honor is a small table with a single chair where no one will ever sit. The table is graced with a lemon wedge and grains of salt on a plate, a black napkin, a wine glass, a white candle and a red rose.
The small table with a white cloth acknowledges a soldier’s pure heart when he or she answers this country’s call to duty. A lemon slice and grains of salt on a plate show a captive soldier’s bitter fate and tears of families waiting for loved ones to return home. A black napkin symbolizes the sorrow of captivity and service. An empty glass and plate represent the meal that won’t be eaten. A white candle is on the table for peace and a red rose is in a vase tied with a red ribbon for the hope that all will return someday.
Mrs. Brock added a guest book at the Bertram Library remembrance display so veterans or their families could sign in and record the military service. The remembrance white table exhibit is open to the public through Nov. 15 at 170 N Gabriel in Bertram from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday thru Friday.
“Veterans have a very special place in my heart,” she said. “Where would we be in this world without our veterans? That is a scary thought.”
Since the Vietnam War, white remembrance tables have been set across America in mess halls and at military events to honor American veterans, especially those missing in action and those held prisoners of war.