Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th and Thank You For Your Service


As I write this I am about a half way through a DVD marathon of the HBO mini-series The Pacific.

In years past, any Patriotic themed holiday had usually seen me watching that other WWII epic, Band of Brothers. While at the Albany Public Library recently, it dawned on me I could finally see this other series.

Unlike Band of Brothers, through the first two episodes, this has been mostly surrounding combat on Guadalcanal. (In fact, the DVD extras said the first three episodes take place during that one campaign.)

However, despite all the attention to make this series as authentic/realistic as possible, it's still not the real thing, and so I want to stop and thank everyone who has ever dawned a uniform, domestic or abroad, in the service of our country.

Without your service I might be writing this in any of a number of other languages, unfamiliar to American shores today. That is, if I'd even be allowed to post my thoughts - unmolested by any government censor.

* * *

Many years ago, my father and I were attending a local monthly meeting of the East Bay Amateur Radio Club. It was some holiday weekend, though which one has faded from memory.

One member, who I think must have escaped with his family from southeast Asia in the early 1970s, decided it might be interesting to visit how other members had served their country over the years. He had proudly spent time in service to his adopted country, and wanted to publicly thank anyone else there who might have done the same.

One by one he went around the room point blank asking each member if they'd ever served. It was a rather uncomfortably long period as veterans, very reluctantly, shared little tidbits of their experiences. That is, if they said much at all.

After what must've been over 30-40 minutes we finally moved on to Ham Radio topics, and you could almost hear a collected sigh of relief throughout the room.

* * *

In my family I can probably count on one hand the few I know took part in actual combat. Thankfully, nobody died in the service of their country.

I don't recollect any of them sharing their experiences; apparently even to their most intimate connections (wives, children, etc.) it was too uncomfortable even after all those years.

One particular uncle had done service in the Army Air Corp many thousand feet over the country where his wife came from so it's easy to understand.

Presumably there's always one exception to this rule, and our exception was my great-grandfather, who serviced in the Austro-Hungarian Army.

My grandmother had stories of how he'd tell the family about how they'd fire the guns and cannons at the Italian soldiers on the other side of the front lines, only to trade rations and socialize with them at night.

Apparently, it was a more civilized war front back during WWI, though this didn't alleviate any fears my great-grandmother had because she would break down and cry every time she heard the sound of the big guns echoing down the mountain passes of the Karawanken Mountains.

My father never served. Depending on one's point of view, he was lucky or unlucky to have been born in 1935, making him too young for WWII.

Should he have been born at a different time, and been eligible to serve, I have no idea whether he would have taken up the opportunity.

We never really talked about service, though he was none too happy when I received a call at home from Sergeant Johnnie, of the local Marine Recruitment Center, during my Senior Year in high school.

Like several of my high school friends I had considered the military. This was back after President Carter reintroduced the requirement for 18-25-year-olds to register for the Selective Service System.

I'm not particularly sure why it was the Marines other than perhaps because one of my best friends was firmly intending to take that route virtually his entire high school career.

He'd always said he'd join the Marines and see the World. Ironically, after joining pretty much all he saw of the World during his three year hitch was the Concord Naval Weapons Station; 31 minutes drive time away!

Had my friend and I actually seen any armed combat it would have been limited if you compare it to service seen by the current generation.

* * *

As each new generation is introduced to war, they experience it with more refined technologies which are supposed to bring precision and clinical methodology to the art of war (was famed military minds Sun Tzu and Carl Von Clausewitz euphemistically called it).

But, in a nutshell, it's no different than many an American conflict from years gone by. Men, and now women, are forced into situations to do thinks they would never do under normal circumstances for their country. Blood is just as red, and a person's spirit leaves the body just as fast.

So, as you're out there watching some parade today, or taking in a fireworks extravaganza this evening, say a prayer for those who have served, as well as those around the World currently serving.

May they may come home safe and sound so their family cannot experience what it's like to make the ultimate sacrifice, as too many have during our country's existence.