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Old 07-03-2010, 10:24 PM   #1
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Default Why I never served - A soldier's child ponders the 4th of July

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. Quite likely my favorite holiday of the year. But as with all the national patriotic observances, such as Memorial Day or Veterans Day, I have come to view them with a degree of introspection.

This narrative is not a long string of excuses, but an accounting of why I made a certain decision in my life and how I have come to regret that on certain levels. I make no excuses for the things I have done, but regret is not the same as excuse.

In high school I was in the Air Force ROTC program. As Vietnam was winding down this made me a member of a less than popular group two days each week when wearing of the uniform was required. I took the military vocational aptitude battery test that was offered to high school students and blew the lid off the thing. My mailbox was always full of recruiting literature from the various military recruiters offering me just about any job I wanted.

I just figured I’d wind up serving somewhere. My choice: Air Force, due to my love of airplanes and technology.

Richard Nixon ended the draft. Vietnam came to an embarrassing close. I figured this was about the best time to serve in the military.

So one afternoon I announced my plans to my parents. My mother bounced off the walls with such enthusiasm you’d thought Charleston Hesston had just parted our kitchen. My father stared at the floor a moment in silence, a silence that continued as he left the room.

My father served in the United States Army. He landed in Algiers, traded a few rounds with the French while they figured out who they were going to fight, us or the Germans. Under the command of British General Montomery he helped drive the Nazi war machine out of North Africa. He was a tank commander with three tanks under his command. During the course of battle, three tanks were destroyed with him inside them.

He pursued the Germans to the island of Sicily, where for still unknown reasons, the two-and-a-half-ton truck he was riding in overturned and ended his military usefulness. He returned home highly decorated; no less than five purple hearts and having been in 17 military hospitals. He was also in a body cast and told he would never walk again. He did walk, and most people who knew him were never aware of the extent of his injuries or the nightmares that would accompany a thunderstorm, when the Nazis would come from hiding under his bed to do battle all over again in his bedroom.

My favorite uncle, Uncle Wint, was also Army. Uncle Wint was the only adult in my life who never found fault or criticism with me. He let me be who I was. If anything, he found this geeky little kid amusing and I can still see his smile and hear his laughter. He loved to garden on my fathers farm. And was actually better at it than Dad was.

Uncle Wint served under Gen. George Patton, went on the long march to save the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge. There he got the end of his thumb shot off (it grew back, go figure!) and frozen feet. He was also a highly decorated American Hero.

My Uncle Earl and Uncle “R.J.” served in Korea. I still don’t know for sure what R.J. stood for. It was always just R.J. Earl was a Marine and proud of it. R.J. was Army. They served with dignity and honor. After the “Forgotten War” they came to live at our house to find work in the big city of Atlanta rather than return to the poverty of the hills of Cumberland Gap.

None of these four brothers volunteered. But when called to serve they went unhesitatingly. They served the country they loved. They fought and some of them bled. Often. They returned home with the thousands of others and built this nation into the superpower that stared down the Soviet Union until it crumbled.

Over the next few weeks, while minor repairs were being made to the kitchen, each of these four brothers at arms (literally) pulled me aside for a chat. It was their collective opinion that our family name had seen enough combat, horror and bloodshed to satisfy the needs of national defense for a while and that they had sacrificed and suffered enough not only for themselves but for their families as well. Perhaps my generation was due a reprieve from their experiences.

In short, they said I should honor my parent’s wishes and not volunteer for the Air Force.

So instead I went to Bible College. Got some scars but no medals and we’ll leave it at that.

Moving forward to these latter years of my life, I stand on the sidewalk as the parade passes by and observe a grandfather across the street with a grandson about five years old clinging to his pant leg. As the colors pass, the old gentleman snaps to attention, his aged frame as straight and tall as men one third his age, the fingers of his right hand stiffly at his eyebrow, giving the colors the respect they deserve.

The grandson and I place our right hands over our hearts, neither of us having earned the right to salute the flag as a soldier does, as this old veteran does now, as my father and his brothers did.

And I am filled with both pride and regret. Down inside, on these patriotic days, I feel back then I should have defied the wishes of the heroes in my bloodline and joined their ranks; once again wearing the family name in uniform in service to our county.

But when men like these give you council, young men, you listen.

On the other hand, when your America hating, military loathing sociology professor at the local junior college tells you not to serve the evil military industrial, baby killing machine, then rise from your seat and poke the fat, balding, pony-tailed ignorant bastard in his left leaning eye.

Then go out and earn the right to salute the colors as a soldier, and not just the child of one.
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Old 07-04-2010, 06:11 AM   #2
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Great story Wade! I read it first on your FB post. You don't need to serve to be a patriot, all you need to do is to respect the flag and what it stands for. Go ahead and salute the flag if you want to, you've earned it.
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Old 07-05-2010, 12:43 PM   #3
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Great story Wade! I read it first on your FB post. You don't need to serve to be a patriot, all you need to do is to respect the flag and what it stands for. Go ahead and salute the flag if you want to, you've earned it.
73
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4yrs USAF 1965-1969
I can't believe I am going to disagree with Andy here but here goes. Yes Wade has earned the right to salute the flag, every citizen in this country has. But he has earned the right to salute it as a civilian does, with his hand over his heart.

We in this country need citizen patriots to help fight the threats from within.

Because battling citizens that are the left leaners or flat out Socialists that think this country should be more like those tyrannical places in the world, they need to be stood up to those that feel the founding fathers need not be followed are changing this country for the worse.

The military fights the threats from outside this country. Citizen patriots fights from within.
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Old 07-05-2010, 04:33 PM   #4
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Yes Wade has earned the right to salute the flag, every citizen in this country has. But he has earned the right to salute it as a civilian does, with his hand over his heart.

We in this country need citizen patriots to help fight the threats from within.

<snip>

The military fights the threats from outside this country. Citizen patriots fights from within.
Dan is right. Andy's well wishes are appreciated.

I always salute the colors, hand over heart, as it should be. But I shall always be a bit envious of those old guys who have earned the right to put that hand to the eyebrow.

I always vote, as this is how the citizen drives despots and tyrants from power.

No excuses. This is my life as I have lived it. But regret is not excuse. My father though, part of that greatest generation, may have been right when he said he had done enough for the two of us.
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Old 07-23-2010, 08:47 AM   #5
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Wade, Thanks for the tribute to the "Old Soldiers". Kinda brought tears to this old Marines eyes. My mothers only two brothers died in battles of WWII.
As a fresh new graduate from college, this old guy had no desire to fight for his country.
With prompting from the selective service though, I joined the U. S. Marines, and saw my own battles in Viet Nam. I now look back and can truthfully say that the Marine Corp took a boy and made a man out of him. Luckly, I did not earn a purple heart, and can only tribute that to our heavenly father.
Service in the Marine Corp launched me into a totally different career than afforded me being a college graduate. Instead of teaching high school, my career took me into federal government service as an electronic Inspector for a few years, then as an Aircraft Inspector for the remainder of my 36 years as a federal employee.
Anyway, thanks again for the tribute to the "old soldiers" in your family. They definately earned respect and the privilage of saluting the flag. I do have to agree with Dan about the proper way to salute the flag also.
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Old 07-27-2010, 01:33 AM   #6
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Wade, Thanks for the tribute to the "Old Soldiers". Kinda brought tears to this old Marines eyes. My mothers only two brothers died in battles of WWII.
As a fresh new graduate from college, this old guy had no desire to fight for his country.
With prompting from the selective service though, I joined the U. S. Marines, and saw my own battles in Viet Nam. I now look back and can truthfully say that the Marine Corp took a boy and made a man out of him. Luckly, I did not earn a purple heart, and can only tribute that to our heavenly father.
Service in the Marine Corp launched me into a totally different career than afforded me being a college graduate. Instead of teaching high school, my career took me into federal government service as an electronic Inspector for a few years, then as an Aircraft Inspector for the remainder of my 36 years as a federal employee.
Anyway, thanks again for the tribute to the "old soldiers" in your family. They definately earned respect and the privilage of saluting the flag. I do have to agree with Dan about the proper way to salute the flag also.
I was almost a marine, I was in both the Army and the Navy.
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