Monday, November 11, 2013

A Soldier Once and Always

Monday, November 11, 2013

Today was Veterans Day here in the United States. It is, sadly, one of those dates on the calendar that can go by unremarked unless someone calls attention to it. Unlike the kick start to summer that is Memorial Day, Veterans Day slips in quietly in the chill of autumn amidst the red and yellow leaves that drift towards the earth.

While Memorial Day was established in remembrance of the honored dead who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, Veterans Day is designed to honor all who have served.

Let me say I have a very healthy respect for those men and women who have served and continue to serve in all branches of the US military.  It takes strength...literal strength to endure the training and the trials of military service...and metaphorical strength, the strength of character it takes to follow in such a path and succeed in that journey.

When I was getting near the end of my incarceration education in high school, I received many pitches in the mail urging me to consider joining the Army (I hate guns) or the Navy (I can't swim) or the Air Force (I can't stand heights). Man, they had no idea who they were pitching to.  Still, one such pitch intrigued me. If I signed up immediately to join the US Army, I would get...a free hat.

A free hat.

Part of me wanted to sign up for the US Army just so the following might happen:

I would get in there and make a damn fool of myself . Some drill sergeant right out of drill sergeant central casting would get in my face and yell, "Boy! You are PATHETIC! What in the HELL are you DOING in this man's ARMY?"

And I would stay straight at attention and fire back, "Sir! Free hat, sir!" 

A long way to go for a joke but damn it would've been funny.

But if I mock my abilities (or lack there of) to survive American military service, I do not mock the institutions that serve to protect America and its interests. The men and women in the service are doing a job that I could never do but its to my benefit and the benefit of all Americans. For that, I am greatly thankful.

My dad served in the US Army before he married my mom. He was stationed primarily in Texas. Color photos from the base there were of wide spaces beneath an endless sky, far removed from the trees and swamps of my dad's neck of the woods in rural North Carolina.  It was here that he learned how to strip a rifle down to parts in seconds and (here's the real tricky part) put it back together again just as fast and the damn thing would still shoot.   

After he left the army, married mom and helped bring little Dave-El into the world, he continued to serve in the National Guard. When my dad became very ill in the last years of his life, his time in military service certainly paid off with medical benefits that covered the expenses that would've crippled my mom otherwise.

When he died, he qualified for a military funeral. It was a cold rainy day in January as we sat huddled about the gravesite but I was scarcely aware of the cold as I held my mother's arm and heard the echoes of the rifle shots. When one of the officers presented my mom with the folded flag, only then was I struck by the enormity of what my father had done, a young man who left the comforts of his North Carolina home and found himself on a Army base hundreds of miles away in Texas. I imagine it might have been a bit scary, a bit daunting to say the least. But my dad did something that I don't believe I could ever do as he embarked on a journey of service; 50 years later on that cold rainy day, these soldiers were seeing him off on this ultimate journey.

A few months ago, my daughter saw a picture of my dad, all young and scrubbed clean and impeccably neat in his uniform. My daughter only knew of her grandfather as a old man in poor health so she was incredulous when I told her that was my dad. She was suitably impressed and thought he looked "cute".

The timing of my dad's service fell between the end of the war in Korea and the beginning of the next one in Vietnam. But all men and women who peacetime or in war...all of these have my respect and my gratitude.

And kudos to my dad on a job well done. He was a soldier once and, in his heart, he always was. 

Well, It's Monday Again.

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