My life

Memorial Day reflections

My dad grew up in the Depression and World War II. He joined the army when he turned 18, just after the war ended, and served as a photographer. He never talked much about his years in the service; I don’t think it meant much to him.

He once told me about a time he was part of a group taken to drive back a convoy of vehicles, and how he ran to get one of the big trucks, only to have the sergeant pull him in favor of someone with more truck-driving experience. Dad had to drive a smaller vehicle instead. That’s the only story I remember him telling about his military service activities. He never talked about what life as an army photographer involved.

One story I did hear several times (and have in writing) is of Dad going AWOL one weekend, hitch-hiking home and having life-changing conversations with his sister and with a kind driver who gave him a ride. Those conversations and a Gideon Bible led to him committing his life to Christ and becoming a missionary.

The GI Bill paid his way through college, where he studied for the ministry and also met my mom. For that, he was grateful.

At Dad’s funeral in 2010, someone from the Army was there to present his widow with a flag. It turned out that he could have been buried in a military cemetery. I don’t think he would have been interested. He had purchased a plot in Wheaton, IL in 2000 when Mom died, and he wanted to be buried beside her.

Dad rarely identified himself as a veteran, and he didn’t have the manner and attitudes of many of my friends who are ex-military. He never used the VA medical system. He had no old Army buddies. His attitude toward authority (which I inherited) was not at all military. He was patriotic, but not blindly so; he disagreed with many US government policies and decisions. As a missionary, he considered himself an emissary of God, not of the USA.

When I was in high school, I toyed briefly with the idea of joining the navy. Dad said he didn’t think I would enjoy it. Upon reflection, I realized that he was right. I wasn’t the type to be under a rigid, authoritarian system, and I didn’t identify enough with my passport country to be willing to serve it blindly.

I have a lot of friends who are veterans. Sometimes I think they gained things from the experience that I lacked for much of my life. Maybe I would have had a clearer sense of what it means to be an adult, a man, if I had served. I wasn’t comfortable with authority (neither being under it nor exercising it) until I was in my mid-40s. I might have felt less marginal to American culture if I had spent my first four years of adulthood in the armed forces instead of a state university. And it would have been nice to enter adulthood trained in something practical like electronics.

But I’m pretty sure I would have been miserable a good part of the time.



11 thoughts on “Memorial Day reflections

  1. I am largely barred from much of what is service. I cant see to shoot anything, I cant see to drive with any sort of notions of safety. I also know enough of the initial training is a life I’ve already had of being driven by thoughts of being so much so what about you do something! I still watch war movies and hear of what it meant. I still feel the pulse of that chase of glory if only to know well its often hollow. this doesn’t mean I’m blind to the other notions oft heard of brotherhood.

    • I was fortunate enough to turn 18 a few years after Vietnam ended, but I was born before 1960 so I didn’t even have to register for the draft. I was always terrified at the idea of war. It has never seemed romantic to me, despite the movies.

      • it’s not odd but dear old dad didn’t mention much about ‘nam save a tale wherein him and cohort changed the immersible heater in a canvas bag’s water for kerosene and some poor sap nearly went to heaven with that blast … and something how he liked only one nam move he took us kid’s too 86’ platoon. all the rest weren’t very accurate he said… he didn’t allow guns in the house claiming he had one once early marriage and the land lady went on vacay only to return early and he said it frieghtened him that he nearly shot her. to this day, I know there is no romance in dirt grime and filth boredom and terror ala war… that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s way of being glorious somehow insanely anyways just as if the medals meant something which he dad said over and over was like seeing my auxillery football coach then in principal mode offer me anything I wanted from a drawer full of awards anything I desired I rather prefered the macdonald certificates and paper…and the lesson that some things are made up just for you so you feel good/better but thus my whole life spoiled now I never trusted a single award ev eer again nor a speech on the value of the sacriface… I knew enough that it was a pissing match somehow with faceless leaders

  2. This brought tears to my eyes.
    Thank you for sharing your Dad with us…and some of his memories.
    It sounds like he was a great man and Dad! 🙂
    Yes, I’ve wondered how different kids would be if everyone had to serve for a few years in the military before college.
    I have veterans in my family…including my oldest brother who was drafted to Vietnam when he was 18 years old.

    • I could never see the point of the traditional degradations of boot camp. I’m sure they have their reasons, but it doesn’t seem to me that humiliating people is the best way to build loyalty and obedience. I understand that modern boot camp is much more respectful than it used to be.

      Colombia has obligatory military service, but most middle-class guys pay a modest fine and avoid it. Israel and Switzerland have universal military service (In Israel, even girls do it, and in Switzerland, all men are in the reserves until age 40 or so).

      Military service seems to benefit some people. One of my classmates went to Air Force boot camp, and washed out in a very short time. He was feeling suicidal, so they let him quit.

      My own life is lived around the question “Why?” I don’t think I would fit into the military very well.

      • Yes, I agree with what you said. I’ve never served in the military, but when my kids were babies I started a Mom’s Group…we’d go to a park or a playground once a week with our kids and play and have lunch. Most of them were military wives. What I learned from them about their tough life made me sad. So I tried to be source of encouragement, and a listening ear, etc. for them.
        HUGS!!! It’s almost Friday!!! 🙂

  3. Military service doesn’t teach anyone anything about being a man, at least not in any definition of manhood that a rational person would consider respectable or honorable. That’s a discussion far too lengthy for a blog comment, so I’ll leave it at that.

    You were indeed fortunate to have such a fine man for a father.

  4. Military service is so common in my family that not signing up wasn’t really a thought entertained before the next sister down. She’s not really fit for life in the service so I’m glad she’s not joining. She WOULD be miserable the entire time.
    Speaking of being miserable, a lot of it is what you make it. My brother was miserable during his time in the Navy because of his attitude towards authority figures. I started that way but figured out early on that it’s best to conform and work for the change you want from the bottom up (unless you know someone at the top!).
    My Mom was a Dental Assistant in the Army. She repeats three stories over and over and never tells any others.
    1) During her final week of Basic Training she was ill. By the testing at the end of it she could barely walk because she was so sick. Part of the testing was a 20 mile ruck march and at the end of it you had weapons qualification and a written test. If you scored 100 on everything you got to ride in a helicopter back to camp.
    She scored 100 even though her rifle jammed, was immediately sent to the hospital where she stayed for a week and left as the Honor Graduate. My brother was Honor Grad too even though he was held back a couple weeks (for writing me a letter when he wasn’t supposed to). It made me feel a bit of a failure when I wasn’t even considered for Honor Graduate.
    2) At one point they said “can anyone drive stick?” and those who did got to drive HMMWV’s in a convoy 3 states over. She said the trip was a blast.
    3) She spent a few weeks in Texas for training and ended up at a mud wrestling match one weekend. Of course she won.

    I never hear any of the others but I know she doesn’t regret her time. She sounds like your Dad when it comes to her mentality as a Vet.

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