Sunday, May 28, 2006

Brothers In Arms

Please pardon me as I wax a little philosophical today.

The choice to join the military's a funny thing. You're not going to do it for the money, for example, or if you want to increase your odds at a long life. Some times people join because they're looking for direction, or discipline, or just a routine. Sometimes they're looking to be a part of something greater.

The military is about sacrifice. Right or wrong, whether you agree with its policies or its reasons to exist, there are fewer things more sacrificial than being a soldier. They ask of you to give nothing less than your life. And every day soldiers do exactly that.

Though I never served in the military, I've been surrounded by it in one form or another my entire life. My father had been a drill sergeant in the Army. Taught freaked out kids how to use a bazooka, how to throw a grenade. Though he had been out for some years before I came along it remained with him. You can take the boy out of the Army, but you can't take the Army out of the boy.

The military influenced how he thought, what he did, how he communicated. He had his Sergeant Voice, for example. And when he used it, you listened. He told a lot of stories about the Army. I think, mostly, because he never saw combat. He joined voluntarily, not drafted, and was discharged about a week before his unit went over to Vietnam.

My grandfather did see combat. He was the captain of a US Navy dredge in the Pacific during World War II. His job, during some of the fiercest fighting with the Japanese, was to steer his ship between the Japanese guns on shore, and the US ships protecting him, and make beachheads for troops to land on. This could take hours with artillery trying to actively take him out. I have no idea how he did it.

I have an uncle who served in Vietnam. Marine pilot. Flew Phantoms. He went back and visited Vietnam a few years ago. I don't know what went on for him over there, but I know that it was rough and that going back for him was a letting go. After thirty years he was finally able to see it as just a place, and not just a burial ground for his friends.

My father-in-law was UDT, a Seal before there were Seals. He fought in Korea and his records are classified. He did things for his country that his country will not actively acknowledge. He was awarded medals, but he can't get them. Because he wasn't officially there. He is scarred from shrapnel, gunshot and knife wounds. He tells stories of some of the fighting he has been in and some of the men he has killed. There are some stories he won't talk about. I suspect ever. He is 78, a brilliant and good man. And he can still kick my ass. In any fight my money's on him. He may be the toughest sonofabitch I have ever met, and I have nothing but respect for him and the sacrifices he has made.

Ultimately, it was my father who dissuaded me from joining the military. Though he instilled in me a great respect for the men and women who serve, he was also a realist and hated the idea of war. On the one hand he was ready for the Apocalypse, and on the other he truly believed that it could and should be avoided. The idea that I or my brother might find ourselves bleeding in a ditch from a bullet scared the shit out of him. Frankly, I've never been fond of it myself.

I have had family and friends in the military. Men and women who have served and served well. So, like many of us, I have a personal stake in Memorial Day.

To the men and women who serve, have served and will serve, I thank you. Your sacrifices are not forgotten. You do something that I did not choose, and not a day goes by when I wonder if I made the right choice.

And to everyone, this Memorial Day, please keep these people in your thoughts and prayers.


Trace said...

Excellent post, Stephen.

Graham said...

Well said. I had two uncles in WWII, one in each theater, and my father (the baby of the family) was a pilot in Korea.