Each Veterans Day, I think of my deceased father and the stories that I later learned of his service in the Korean War. But this Veterans Day, I’ve been thinking more about my grandfather, the man who watched his son march off to Korea. How must it have felt knowing that your son was enlisting with the prospect of combat and then knowing that he was engaged in combat?
Children grow up and we expect them to talk about the future and what they plan to do. But as I walked the dog with my eldest son the other evening, the discussion turned to life after high school. He’s not yet in high school but watches Eldest with the typical high school decisions – where do I want to attend and what do I wish to study? My son – whom I refer to as Middle – struck me with a serious comment about serving his country and his thought of enlisting after graduation. This wasn’t the tone of the kid saying that he wanted to be a soldier when he grew up, but the tone of someone who’s actually giving it consideration. My question was simple: Why do you want to serve? His response was equally simple: Because I want to make a difference and know that what I did meant something besides just a job.
I honestly felt as though one half of my heart was being torn from the other. This is what I want from my children, the willingness and ability to lead productive and fulfilling lives. I can’t give them happiness since that’s something that they must find for themselves, from within. But the other half was the fear that I suddenly realized, in an intense fashion, is felt by millions of other fathers as they worry about their sons and daughters. Before this moment, it had occurred to me as an intellectual awareness that maybe my child would become a soldier but now it struck me viscerally. We talked and he then asked me what I thought of that prospect. Both of our families – maternal and paternal – are shot through with veterans, although my wife’s tends to the Navy while mine tends to the Army – and the kids know at least some of the stories that have been handed down. God knows that awareness shot through me as we walked.
I struggled with my thoughts and responded simply. I told him that it was an honorable wish and certainly an honorable way to gain that wish, and God knows we need solid, dependable people in the Army. But the reality of what truly bothered me quickly became clear. It’s not that the Army or Air Force isn’t worthwhile, because it is. What’s bothering me is that you might have to risk your life and I want – need – to be sure that the people making the decisions about going to war are truly able to make a good decision that’s worth the sacrifice. And I’m no longer certain that they’re either competent or honest enough to make a solid decision.
That’s why I’ve been thinking of my grandfather the past two days. None of us wish to see our children in danger but the large majority understand that there’s a real need for those able and willing to serve. My grandfather however, had Truman as a president and a Congress that believed that division ended at the water’s edge. I’m honestly not the least bit confident in the political leaders, either in their decisions or their loyalties. Who do they serve? The people that elected them, or a corporation that’s purchased their vote for an issue that’s unfriendly to the common man? If my son and his friends are someday in Harm’s Way, I need to know that they’re there for the reasons that idealistic young join – serve, protect and make a difference.
I hope that I haven’t offended anyone reading this and I mean no disrespect to those who served. Now that it’s off of my chest, I’m going to have a drink and have a few thoughts of my own father, the veteran.
Good night and thank you for your service.