In yesterday’s blog I said that today I would talk about our return trip from Ohio to Florida. But instead, I want to share some thoughts on veterans and Veterans Day.
My family has a long tradition of military service. At least two great grandfathers that I know of were in the Civil War. Yes, the Civil War. I was born late in my parents’ lives. I know of one grandfather who saw military service, and my father and many of my uncles fought during World War II. One of those uncles never made it back home. My two brothers also spent their time in uniform. I have cousins who served in Vietnam, and several of my nephews spent time in the military. So when I got out of high school, during the Vietnam War, there was no question what my next step would be. I went to the recruiter, raised my right hand, took my oath, and did my time.
Some of my time in the Army was very bad, but a lot of it was very good. I have never regretted the experience, and I know it helped me grow up fast. Maybe even too fast. I am proud of my service to my country, and more than once when somebody has objected to me expressing my opinion on something, which seems to happen more and more these days, I remember that I did things no one should ever have to do to give them the right to disagree with me. But I also know that I earned the right to speak my mind and no one can tell me to shut up, whether I am right or wrong. And there is no question in my mind that I have been wrong more than once. Still, I make no apologies for saying how I feel about something.
I did many things while I was in the military, and the worst of all was a short time when I was assigned to be a funeral escort. My job was to meet a dead soldier’s remains when they arrived at their hometown and to be a liaison between the Army, the funeral home, and the dead hero’s family. I was a 19-year-old kid, and besides being shown how to fold a flag and instructed on how a military funeral was conducted, I was given only three rules. Never say anything bad about the war or the military; never sleep with the dead man’s wife, sister, or other relatives; and never, under any circumstances, allow any family member to look inside a closed coffin if the accompanying paperwork was stamped RNV, which was an abbreviation for Remains Not Viewable.
At every closed coffin funeral I was involved in, the parents or wife wanted to know that it was really him inside that box, hoping against all hope that there had been some terrible mistake made. If they insisted on knowing it was their son or husband, I was supposed to look myself and tell them he looked fine but was discolored because of the shipping time. I was never to tell them what I really saw. Believe me, they did not want to see what I saw, and even today I wish I never had. After a while I cheated and stopped looking. I just couldn’t any more. It was horrible to have to stand there and lie to them, but it would have been even worse to allow them to look.
I had parents hug me and cry. And I also had them hit me and demand to know why I was still alive and their loved one was dead. How the hell can a 19-year-old kid answer a question like that? I have asked myself the same question a thousand times over the years, and I still don’t know the answer. I only lasted about three months in that job before begging to be reassigned anywhere, even back in the war zone. I just could not do it one more time.
But I can tell you one thing I took away from my time in uniform. If you had to do the things I did back then, if you had to see the things I saw, you would not remain silent when old men who have nothing to lose are quick to send young men and women off to fight and die for causes that only further their own interests, be they political or personal.
Thought For The Day – If you want to thank a veteran for their service, the best way to do it is to be the kind of American worth fighting and dying for.