It’s funny how you take things for granted when you’re a kid.  I knew, growing up, that my dad had been a radioman on the battleship USS Missouri–he started when he was nineteen, and my Uncle Jack, who also went in at nineteen, served well in the USMC.

I just wanted to hear stories about stabbing Japs and blowing up Germans, but my dad steadfastly refused to talk about what he’d done and what he’d been through.

He did start once to talk about the time that he was called upon to secure bodies that had floated up from a submarine that had been torpedoed by the Japanese; the sharks in the Pacific Theater had pretty much made sure that nothing but bones were left.  My dad’s job at the time was making sure that all the bones got rounded up and given a decent burial.

I can’t even imagine how awful the things he wouldn’t talk about must have been.

Uncle Jack was a much livelier and cocky guy (he joined the USMC because he looked best in their uniform), but he never talked about the war either.  Someone once told me that he had landed at Guadalcanal and Corregidor.  The few times that I brought it up, he changed the subject immediately and we wound up talking about cars and the NBA.

When I was eight or nine, my dad somehow struck up an acquaintance with a Dutch man named Mr. Brodel.  Mr. Brodel wasn’t born Dutch.  He was from Poland, Jewish, and his whole family got split up and sent to various concentration camps.  I don’t know how many survived, but Mr. Brodel eventually made his way to Holland, became a citizen, and then the States, and somehow made acquaintance with my dad.  For all I know, my father or my uncle might have been instrumental in liberating Mr. Brodel, but I have no idea.  It’s all quite complicated, and I can’t claim to understand it.

It was all the more difficult to understand because none of them ever talked about it.

I do not like or admire anybody who brags or boasts about being in this or that conflict.  I’ve met a dozen men who’ve claimed to have been Navy SEALS, and every single one of them turned out to be full of shit.  The idea that they’re riding on my dad’s and my uncle’s coat-tails (and all the other men and women like my dad and uncle) makes me want to kick their teeth out.

Good and brave men, like Daddy, Uncle Jack, and Mr. Brodel, do not embrace or look forward to war, but they show up when called upon and do whatever needs to be done, and when the job’s over, they go back to being the same good men they were before.

I inherited a distaste for war from Daddy, but I’m still hugely grateful that good men and women are ready and willing to serve, and that they’re the best-equipped and most well-trained forces the world has ever seen, and I’m grateful for all the behind-the-scenes R & D people as well.

It doesn’t really have anything to do with political maneuvering or saber-rattling; I hate the idea that someone can get away with blowing up another country just because we don’t agree with them.

That’s one reason that I wasn’t cut out for the Navy.  After I got my BA in 1985, I signed up to go to NAOCS (Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School) at Naval Air Station Pensacola.  I wanted to fly jets for the Navy.

Right off the bat, they make you memorize reams of information, including the chain of command, and at the top–at the time–was our Commander in Chief, Ronald Reagan.

I can understand swearing allegiance to FDR during WWII, but if my dad–who had died the month before–knew that I was pledging to be a toady for RR, he would have crawled right out of his grave and kicked my own teeth out.

The “I wanna be a jet pilot” thing didn’t quite work out, so I went back to teaching.  I wound up teaching at the US Army Sergeants Majors’ Academy, out at Biggs Field, and I gotta tell you–I wound up with more appreciation for those guys than I ever thought possible.  They really are heroes; they embody the qualities that I want to see in my society every day.  They’re indestructible, they love their families, they laugh at obstacles, and they do everything that needs to be done.

We’re all better off that I didn’t become a jet pilot, because there’s no way I could be as good as these guys.

Sometimes it’s easy to think that my dad’s generation is lost and gone forever, but if I shut up and think about it for a few minutes, I realize that I’m wrong.  I don’t even know how many service men and women there are now, but it’s a pretty safe bet that a good percentage of them are as devoted as my dad’s generation was.

I remember Daddy every day, of course, but today I put some extra effort into appreciating people who serve now, and I hope you do too.

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