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.