Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mike Didn't Go For a Soldier

Veteran's Day likely has connotations for most of us and catalyzes various emotions.

In a real sense, I was born in the military — at Ft. Sill Station Hospital. My father was an artillery commander. My silver baby cup reads my name and birthday, and that it is from "OFFICERS AND LADIES" of the 17th field artillery battalion. When I was six months old, we headed off as part of the occupation army in Japan, from where my father also forayed into Korea to fight some more.

He and many uncles and great uncles got their wounds and medals in WWII and Korea. Moreover, my maternal grandfather had the odd distinction in our family of having snuck off underage to join the American Expeditionary Force in Europe in WWI. He was the age of my youngest now, whom I can't imagine in combat.

My parents divorced when he returned from Korea and they actually got to know each other. They had no business marrying and had the sense to quit. She raised me. Subsequently, he remarried and has two other sons, both of whom for some inexplicable reason spent a few years in the military. They also felt as I, that they had served military service long before they could join, and they don't understand why they did it.

I was of the age that saw our last military draft. The Army was determined to draft me the minute I got out of college and sent me letters to that effect. They had a place in Southeast Asia for me to go. In the first draft lottery, the day before my birthday was 341 of 365 and the day after it was 360. They took boys through 195. My birthday was 104.

I had no intention of going nor any of heading to Canada. I knew the war was wrong, fought for the wrong purposes and a waste of the lives of all who died there.

I dearly loved my grandfather, a remarkable man. Yet I knew he had been an eager fighter in WWI, going when it wasn't necessary. He had also been active since in the VFW and AmVets, even holding such offices as state chaplain in the former. I felt I couldn't even discuss it with him.

One summer day, I was sitting on the front porch in his little town, watching the apple and peach orchards on the mountain before me. I actually was hoping for a rain storm. Most of the time, you can see the cloud come up and over the mountain like an angry, dark beast. You can watch it flow down and see the rain drenching the trees and head to town.

However, my grandfather had something to say when he joined me. He told me that he knew well that I had always been gentle and preferred to reason rather than fight. Then, he said that if he were my age, he would not go to fight in Vietnam, that it was not a just war for good causes. Then, he handed me a C.O. letter that he had drafted without my asking or even implying. He said if anyone he knew was against war, it was I.

I was surprised. I was stunned and could only thank him. Of course, perhaps I shouldn't have been. He had known me from before I occupied Japan.

By the bye, I did not apply for conscientious objector status. Instead, I told the military that I would not fight, but if they needed a photographer or reporter, I wasn't afraid to go. I told them I would not carry arms in that war.

They sent C.O. papers. I returned them saying I wasn't applying for that status, rather that I absolutely wouldn't fight in that war. After three rounds of this, they eventually changed my 1-A (report for duty) status to a 3-A (the same as guys with a bunch of kids).

Yes, I'm glad the Germans didn't win either World War. Nearly everyone alive owes a huge gratitude to those who fought, those who supported and those who died. Not every veteran was or is a hero, but enough have been and the stakes have been so high, that this day and other days we are right to treat them all as such.

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Ryan said...

Hmm... what is a silver baby cup? I wasn't aware babies got such gifts. Is it a southern or military tradition?

massmarrier said...

It was a standard for the past couple of centuries, originating, I believe, in England. The appropriate gifts for new babies were often of silver, spoons and particularly cups. Mine is well used, with some dents from baby usage.

Anyplace that sells silver, such as Tiffany or Shreve's has them. They do it in Yankee Land too.