Another Veteran’s Day.
As a public employee I am off today. This is one Federal Holiday I feel I have earned. I am a veteran and am proud of my service to my country. However, I realize that that sentiment should be replaced by another. I am a veteran, and I am lucky to be one.
I learned that sentiment from my son.
My son is said something along these lines shorly before he left to serve you, his fellow citizens in the United States Army. More on that later.
I am not a great family historian, but I do know that my family has served its fellow citizens by serving in our nation’s armed forces. I could become at this moment altruistic, but I won’t. They served for their own reasons. I could also wax utopian and have the attitude that service in the military is not a good thing because war is evil. Of course war is evil, and so service in the military is not a redeeming panacea that frames human character. Serving in the military has as a goal ending the life of an enemy, so any military service is a necessity of evil. The word necessity should be the word which catches our eyes. In case any have unrealistic fantasies out there, it’s a rough world out there, filled with people who don’t like us – and I write this knowing that the “thems” in their own context are an “us”.
I will not at this time go too far afield and talk about patriotism. Let me just give the short version and say that one of the most maddening phrases, songs, and attitudes I hear is the one “Proud to be an American”. It’s not because I disagree with the policies of our country, overly lament the national errors our forebears have made, nor disagree with the concept that America on the whole has been a force of good. I just think the statement is stupid. One has no basis to be “proud” of something they had no control over. I’m happy or lucky or even blessed to be an American would be a much more accurate and intellectually honest statement. My son’s statement back this summer reminded me of that.
My relatives have served our nation from their arrival in the 1840’s. From the Civil War, World War One and Two, Vietnam and today my family members have worn the uniform. I am lucky that I have such people in my family who sacrificed so that our nation was torn in two was sustained. I am lucky that today when there are many who still do not wish our nation well, my son in his words, “gets to stand up for his country”.
I also was lucky to serve, but my service pales when I consider that my Uncle Peter Smith served as a Doughboy in France in World War One. I am shamed of my “pride” in my own service when I consider that my grandparents had four sons – my Uncles Jim, John, Frank and James – all serving in World War Two. I can’t imagine the daily prayers, hopes put on hold, and fears that they experienced, until recently when I have begun to have maybe a concept of what they faced. My Uncle Jim’s vessel was torpedoed three times in World War Two, my Uncle Frank was 17 years old when he was a casualty at Omaha Beach spending much of the rest of his life in pain reliving that horrible day from his adolescense, my Uncle James spent much of his 20’s island hopping while in the USMC, including involvment in Bloody Tarawa. When faced with this level of service to their country, my “pride” is indeed pathetic, and I indeed was lucky to have served as a Paratrooper.
My son enlisted this past summer. In his words, he is lucky. My son had many stumbles as an adolescent, and like many parents today, I was impotent to stop him on his own path to ruin. Luckily for me when he was spiraling downward, he and my wife caught him. God was also most kind to my son, and my son much to my joy recongizes the mercy that was given to him. However, my son did not have a clear direction and needed one. He had also done many things that while forgiven, only time could heal the wounds and the breaches of trust done to them. This was a real family crisis. There were little places he could turn. At 19 he knew he didn’t want to go to college. He also knew that he didn’t want a job working at a deli, Walmart, 7-11 etc. He considered moving to the Midwest with his mother, but didn’t wish to do that either. In the past he would have run from his responsibility. I also knew I had to help him.
I picked him up one morning and laid out the thin options he had before him. I added one, that I don’t regret, but knew that doing so, was not without risk, and mentioned service in the armed forces. I told him I would go with him to the recruiter and asked him to respectfully listen to what they said. He shocked me when he said he would do so. Even though I had been in the Army I mentioned the Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy. I am sure that you all know why I would mention these first. He said, No, but he would visit the Marines and Army recruiter. I said that the Guard or Reserves would be a good option. He was silent.
We went to one recruiter. My son, despite his lack of belief in himself qualified for every MOS offered by the Army. Many of these had lucrative bonuses and sounded as if they were made for my boy. My boy who would drive me wild with his shouts of joy and anger as he played Gears of War and Ghost Recon – becoming one of the best in the gaming world at them. He listened, respectfully and said “No”. I broached the Reserves and the Guard, he was faster than the recruiter when he said, “No”. In six months I’ll be in the same boat as I am today. Even the recruiter was silent for a moment at that one.
When he asked what he wanted to do he looked at the recruiter and me and said, I want to do what m dad did. I want to jump out of planes and be a real soldier. I have never felt such pride and fear in my life at a statement. You see, although I belatedly realized that I am lucky to have served in the Army, and yes as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, I believe that my son was proud of me. I asked him if he was sure. I mentioned all the things that he could do with his ability scores. My son who is as stubborn as I am replied, “If doing that was good enough for you, it’s good enough for me”. I will admit that tears filled my eyes upon hearing that. Tears of fears and of gratitude, that my son was indeed proud of me.
One day shortly before he departed for basic training, AIT and Jump School we spoke. I told my son how proud I was of him for his decision to serve his country in a tough time. He didn’t say much and then looked at me. “Dad”, he said, “I’m lucky”. I’ve screwed up my life a lot, but now I get to serve my country.”. Even as I reflect upon this months later I am moved by his thoughts.
I will echo them.
I am lucky that I was given the opportunity to serve my country in some small way. I have been repaid richly for the minor investment I made.
I am lucky that I was born into a family who like thousands of other families in our nation demonstrated courage and a willingness to serve their country.
I am lucky that I have a son who also serves his country. I will also be proud of him and his choices.
Those who may come upon this post, please also reflect upon how lucky you are.
I also ask you to join me in a daily ritual that I have as I ride to work, I pray for my son, and for thousands of other sons and daughters. I pray that those who have wives and children will be kept emotionally close to them as they serve me. I pray that God will be merciful to my son and the other sons and daughters who are indeed volunteering to be in harm’s way – for my safety. I pray for my wife and my son’s mother (that one is not always an easy prayer) that they will be at peace with their child’s choice. Then I offer a prayer of gratitude that I amso lucky to have such people as our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our parents and grandparents, and our sons and daughters that watch over me.
Proud – not really. Lucky – most definitely.