I will never know what it is like to be in a war. Not a physical one anyway. I am too old to be drafted now. My ‘number’ didn’t come up in the 1970’s before the Vietnam War ended and the draft ended. The “draft.” Now isn’t that a term that has taken on a whole new meaning for the last couple of generations. The only draft our children know is the NFL Draft, or maybe, the NBA Draft. I remember the usual fantasy games as a boy (okay, into my early adulthood) where I would imagine graduating from West Point and starting the long climb to “Yes sir, General Te Winkle.”
Knowing what I know now I see that I have reason to be thankful that my ‘number’ never came up. But, as I talk to widows of veterans and veterans from the past wars of the U.S.; and as I talk to our brave men and women who serve our nation now, I have questions. I wonder what it would have been like. But, then I don’t want to know. I can see enough in the movies to know that this was not a life to be desired. And yet, this life, this life of serving in the military, remains the life for which the world’s freedom makes such overwhelming demands.
I remember talking to a veteran one night. “What did you do in the war? Did you have a gun? Did you have to shoot it?” Since I asked those questions I have learned that these are very inappropriate questions to ask of any combat veteran. There are some things you do not bring to mind, and this topic is one of them. Of course, I was just a young boy when I asked those questions, the days when I did not know that these questions were off limits in polite society, and especially among families.
But they, these men and women who went places I do not want to go; these men and women who are required to do things I would not, could not, do; they, these heroes, are the very reason I can write something like this and send it over the world wide web without fear of someone knocking on my door to arrest me. Still, I wonder what happened to that man, the secrets which he took to his grave. I wonder what happened in those buildings in Italy you walked through, wondering if you would get shot in a moment or if you would come back to become a man, to become my Dad. Will our little Memorial Day salute do you justice? Or is resting with God justice enough?
Footnote: I wrote this on Memorial Day weekend in 2013. I repeat it today in honor of all those who served our nation, and especially in memory of my Dad who passed into life eternal five years ago this week.