AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Hail and Farewell

FINNISH INDEPENDENCE

6 December 1917

ARI J. ANTTILA 1925-2014

This column is dedicated to the memory of my dear Veteran father, Ari Anttila.

He heard me give this speech at the 95th Independence Day Gala.

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Independence Day Gala 2012 Speech by Ava Anttila:

Welcome everyone (Tervetuloa kaikille)

Thank you for being here!!

As we begin the Suomi 95 celebration, a special thanks is due to all of our sponsors—and, especially to our principal sponsors: the Finnish Consulate and Suomi Kerho.  Thanks too to Riikka Jyrälä and her hard working Suomi 95 Committee.

We all are here tonight to celebrate Finnish Independence.  But what does that mean?   Everyone here tonight has some connection or interest in Finland.  That, by itself, is reason to celebrate!

The 95th anniversary of Independence is more than a date and a reason for a party.   How did we get here?  Why are we here?  What is our connection with Finland’s history?   Why should you or you or you or you—Why should we care about our history and connected heritage?

Olen varma että kaikki tässä salissa ovat kiitollisia perinteisistä historiastamme.  Olet läsnä tänä iltana isoisienne, isoäitienne, isienne ja, äitienne muiston kunniaksi.

Miksi olemme täällää? Mikä tämän tilaisuuden tarkoitus ? Olette myös juhlimassa suomalaisuuttanne ja mitä se on merkinnyt omassa elämässänne.

What is this box —-mikä tämä rasia on?

This box holds our history.  This box is why we are here!  This box is a gift from the heroes and heroines we honor tonight.

I saw this box every day of my life as a little girl –literally, as long as I can remember.

I saw this box every day of my life as a little girl –literally, as long as I can remember.

As the daughter of a Finnish war Veteran and a Lotta, I am honored to be standing here tonight to share a few thoughts with you.  As a proud citizen of Finland and of the United States, I have noticed the difference in the way Independence is celebrated.  The 4th of July is a joyous, yankee-doodle-dandy, beer and barbeque party—appropriate to a freedom celebration earned by the blood and treasure of distant kin almost 250 years ago.

Finnish Independence Day on December 6th is a solemn, reverent homage to the SISU of our fathers and mothers who ‘told’ Russia they could not take back Finland in 1939 –independent only since 1917.  Finns do not like change—and they certainly do not respond well to being told what to do!

... the combination of heavy woodland, strong defence layout and veterans of the Finnish legion fresh from the European war held the Russians at bay.

… the combination of heavy woodland, strong defence layout and veterans of the Finnish legion fresh from the European war held the Russians at bay.

You may recall that in 1155, the first missionaries arrived in Finland from Sweden.  Finland became part of the Swedish realm.  In 1809, Sweden surrendered Finland to Russia, with the Czar declaring himself as a constitutional monarch over an autonomous Duchy.  In 1917, Finland declared its independence and was recognized as a new state by Russia, France, Germany, and Sweden.  Finland soon became a Republic with a President as its Head of State.

Russia invaded Finland in 1939—after only 22 years of Finnish Independence, and the Winter War began.  My Mother was 13—my Father was 14 when he saw the Russian bombers hitting his Helsinki neighborhood!  Both were active participants in the Continuation War from 1941 to 1944.  Finnish Independence is not only Finnish History—it is family history.  It is very personal!!  My parents survived.  Many others did not.  They were people my parents –and yours, knew and loved.  Yes, Finnish Independence is personal, indeed!

Finland stood alone when on November 30 1939, Stalin, believing he could rapidly crush the Finns opened hostilities with a bomber raid over Helsinki.

Finland stood alone when on November 30 1939, Stalin, believing he could rapidly crush the Finns opened hostilities with a bomber raid over Helsinki.

Fifteen years ago—when we were planning the 80th, it seemed only proper to cast that Los Angeles Independence “Gala” as a dignified celebration featuring the Veterans and Lottas who fought to preserve Finnish Independence and who were living in our midst.  Yesterday I pulled out the photos of the 1997 celebration where the Veterans and Lottas posed for a formal portrait before they proudly marched into the Ballroom to thunderous applause.  What a proud assembly!!  Tonight their numbers are significantly fewer, but our gratitude and pride in their courage, commitment, and accomplishments forever remains

Books and movies have attempted to capture the grim reality of the Winter War and the Continuation War.  Truth be known, only those who were there really know why “…war is hell”.  Our honored guests—the Veterans , know from personal experience.  The Lottas were right alongside of them on the battlefields, in the medical triage, and in the mess halls as the bullets were flying.    Thank you!!

On a lighter note:  A number of years ago when my boys were younger, I encouraged them to learn about Finnish Independence from two who were part of that heritage of the valiant fighting Finns—their Grandparents.  My older son asked my dear Lotta Mother: “What did the Lotta’s do?”  Her answer lost a little in translation when she replied “…we serviced the troops!”

So, what about this  box?

At this time of year everyone is all about the holiday season, the celebrations, and the pikkujoulus.  Remember ‘Black Friday’ this year with its accelerated commercialism?  It worked.  People are buying presents like crazy.  Decorations are up, music is playing, but most seem to be in a holiday mood for fun and folly.  Lots of fancy boxes will be wrapped in pretty paper and pretentious bows.

Not today!  Not in this moment!  Not on Finnish Independence Day!  For the younger generations here tonight, you need to know that this is a solemn day of great respect to ponder the incredible Finnish heritage you have been given.  It is your obligation to pass the heritage on.  You are the last generation who will have personally known the very real and wonderful people who fought to keep Finland independent!

I saw this box every day of my life as a little girl –literally, as long as I can remember.  Isä brought this simple contraption to the U.S. from Finland.  It was part of my dear Veteran Father’s daily routine.  He looked at it—he held it—he put treasured items in it.  One day, many years ago, I asked him about the box.  He showed me 2 papers folded up inside, but did not say much that I understood.  Those papers were leaflets in Finnish and Russian urging the Finns to surrender because the war was “lost”.  [The Russians never did understand the Finns—or Sisu!]

A few years later, I came to understand what this box was –and what it represented.   It was a gift from him—and his generation, to me and mine.  Just a plain box—no ribbons here!

This is a land mine from the Continuation War!  Among the duties my Father had doing during the war was clearing these from our homeland.  The mines were put on the Russian border by the Germans and were meant to kill and maim.  As you can see, these mines were cleverly made of wood [not Finnish wood] so they could not be detected by metal detectors.  Filled with explosives, they were deadly if tripped!   My Dad and his mates used a long stick to probe ahead of their paces.  With each step you held your breath, not knowing what was to come.  You never knew what or whom you would lose.  Mine clearing is not for the faint of heart!

What does this box symbolize?   This box is the gift of Independence brought to all of us by our brave forefathers and mothers.

A Finnish lotta, a member of the Lotta Svärd women organisation, watching the skies for Soviet aircraft during January 1940 in northern Finland.

A Finnish lotta, a member of the Lotta Svärd women organisation, watching the skies for Soviet aircraft during January 1940 in northern Finland.

So, as you go through this season of giving, I hope you will remember this little box and the great gift we have all been given by our Finnish heroes and heroines!

Thank you dear Veterans and Lottas for our precious gift of freedom.  And, as we thank you this evening, we remember those patriots, the aseveljet who were not able to be here tonight, those who have gone before, and those who lie in the cemeteries in Finland who paid the ultimate price for us.

We stand and honor our Heroes and Heroines—our Veterans and Lottas .Thank you for your service!!!  Thank you for Finland!!!

Thank you dear Veterans and Lottas for our precious gift of freedom.

Thank you dear Veterans and Lottas for our precious gift of freedom.

There is a long legacy of individuals and organizations continuing in the Finnish tradition that will make sure that what is true, righteous, and proud in our history, heritage, and national treasure will live on. We will share our history; we will work hard; we will never forget; we will honor your Sisu and sacrifice.

Haluan luvata Teille, rakkaat Veteraanit ja Lotat että me suomalaiset, jälkeläisemme ja tulevat sukupolvet eivät ikinä unohda työtänne. Tulemme yhdessä  pitämään uhrauksenne ja perinteenne aina elossa.

 

Finnish war veteran Ari Antiila with daughter Ava  at the 95th Independence Day Gala

Finnish war veteran Ari Antiila with daughter Ava

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