Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When we beat swords into plowshears...

Today we honor those who have gone to war or served to protect our citizenry on behalf of a grateful nation. While I feel that I am more than appropriately patriotic on a number of fronts, I don't have any surviving members of my immediate family who are among current U.S. veterans. There are two uncles on both sides. The first, my 86 year-old Uncle Irvin fought in World War II as a Marine, but my father, who was his junior by just three years, never had the opportunity to join the military. Most did. Roughly half of his graduating 1944 class at L.S.U. perished in the war. Being a chemical engineering graduate, he was immediately issued a military exemption and sent to a small town in Tennessee to work on a secret engineering project whose success would ensure the eventual end of the conflict. My father worked with uranium isotopes and was even exposed to uranium gas at Oak Ridge where only a few people understood what the Manhattan Project was all about. Although I am very proud of what he accomplished in the war effort, he had no uniform or medals to show for what he did. He had no tales of being pinned down by enemy fire in France or bravely storming Mt. Suribachi. Of course, I was glad that he did not have to undergo the terrors of a battlefield, but it is ironic that he was exempted from military service and was exposed to gas, while his father fought against the Axis in World War I. My grandfather was a part of the Rainbow Division that went "over there" and he experienced the inhumane war machine that used mustard gas to fill the lungs of thousands of soldiers, most of whom suffered horrible deaths. My grandfather survived his tour of duty, but just barely. Another soldier on the other side likewise survived a gas attack during the same war and spent several weeks convalescing at war's end. That German corporal named Hitler went back to his home and began a campaign of hate that embroiled into the World War II and the Holocaust. Meanwhile, my grandfather came home and eventually married my grandmother who bore him my father and later my dad's brother Joel (the second uncle of whom I spoke earlier) nine years later. Although my dad never served, his younger brother became a doctor and served in Japan as a member of the Air Force Medical Corps. I remember how proud my grandmother was of his service to his country and how glad she was that he served in a time of peace. It was different during my time to be called up for military service. There was a draft on and the war the nation waged in VietNam was one that split the country politically and philosophically. I don't know what I would have done had my draft number been number one as it was for those born on my birth date in 1955. I would like to think that I would have answered the call to arms and proudly served my country as did my paternal grandfather and at least one of his brothers. It is those simple men and women who serve this country that continue to guarantee freedom for our citizens and promote our democratic ways in a world where many would like to see a weak or impotent U.S military. While John Lennon imagined there were no countries, it is the realist in me that recognizes that idealism doesn't work in an imperfect world. Perhaps one day there won't be a need for soldiers and veterans, but until that day I am holding to the Scouting motto that says "Be prepared."

No comments: