Many had perceived the question to be impertinent. It made sense though. “What’s in it for them? Why do they serve?” The setting may have been inappropriate, Arlington National Cemetery. But consider, he has no acquaintance, no familiarity with anyone in the military. Yet, he is hardly unique in this sense. Sure, he may say, “I have a great reverence for anyone who has served.” But a lot people say that too, much in the same vain as “Thank you for your service.”
dad near field hospital, 1st ID Lai Khe, South Vietnam (1967)
With slightly less than 1% serving in the military, the disconnect between the military and civilian population is becoming greater. Few know of anyone currently serving, or anyone who has served. It results in misperceptions and a lack of understanding of the military in general. The disconnect has made it easy to disparage, to dislike, those who wear the uniform. I have been called a natural born killer. My dad, a baby killer. Yet, when any kind of civil aid is needed, military assistance is often requested.
Earlier this year, an article appeared in the NY Times discussing those who serve. For some, it is the “family business.” Military service, a tradition passed from one generation to another – grandfather, father, son, grandson. The military life is a different way of life. It is more regimented, more ordered, more disciplined. It is about responsibility and accountability. It is a 365/24/7 commitment.
In the Times piece, the notion about mom and/or dad encouraging their sons and daughters to enlist, however, is far from the truth, especially those who have seen combat. Dad really did not want Ginny and myself to enter military service. “At some point,” he said, “you will have to pay the piper.” And, that is being sent into a hazard zone. Inside or outside the wire doesn’t matter. A frontline medic during the Korean War, a chief OR technician in Vietnam, dad had seen enough of dying and dead. “It is one of those things no one should see, least of all, your own children.”
with the surgeon dad worked with, 1st ID Lai Khe, South Vietnam (1967)
A family friend, Cam and Bobbie discouraged their three sons from military service. Yet, all three became career military men. Two of their grandchildren are currently serving. One, an infantry officer, the other a linguist specialist with military intelligence.
Mom and dad were surprised when I enlisted into naval service. They genuinely thought my career profile would not include military service. When I was accepted into BUD School, a few years later, dad was most surprised. “I did not know you are a true believer.” Ask, I will tell you there is absolutely no better place than America. We are imperfect. We have faults. We make mistakes. But, we strive to overcome them. I believe every word of the Constitutional oath I had taken, then and now.
I was asked, one time, “Why do you choose to risk your life for us? We are so unworthy to have liberty and freedom. No sooner you leave, we’ll return to our old ways of killing.”
Bravo, the unit dog 1st ID Lai Khe, South Vietnam (1967)
Of those who enter military service, they would be the last to call themselves patriots or keepers of the peace. Instead, they would call themselves ordinary men or women doing a job. Heroes, not really. Warriors, not really. “Thank you for your service,” not all that important.
My dad and I, we simply did our jobs.
Photo credit – all photos taken with dad’s Brownie camera.