Eventually their paths crossed, they married, and two years later my dad was drafted into the Navy to spend two years at Pearl Harbor after its bombing. I can remember as a child playing with my dad’s white Navy hat; as a young adult seeing the pictures of him in his white uniform, leaning against a Tiki carving in Hawaii; and now looking at the uniformed picture of him on my mother’s dresser.
This part of history is fading from our memories as we lose more and more of the Greatest Generation.
But then there are those that follow — my generation, the Boomers.
My scenario was very similar to mom’s experience. The Vietnam War brought about another draft — so, while I was starting college, the love of my life was drafted into the Army. After several times of having his name on a docket to go to Vietnam, he ended up in Stuttgart, Germany, for two years as a flight operations coordinator. During that time, we got engaged and planned our wedding for just after my graduation. Being in a 13-floor all-girls dorm, the war was foremost on our minds as we waited the fate of our loved ones.
While dignitaries and troops passed through Stuttgart, my husband met Gordon, an Army crew chief who had survived being a helicopter gunner. Gordon brought his memories home with him in the form of a piece of helicopter rotor chain he wore on his wrist and a few pictures. On a recent visit to see him, he shared his pictures and memories of the war for the first time with us — some 40 years later.
It’s been a long time since Vietnam and sometimes it takes that much time to be ready to revisit a part of one’s personal history. Even so, it is buried in our minds, ready to be brought forth again.
Now as Boomers, we watch as our children experience the continuation of wars around the world and their impact on our enlistment of military personnel. Our children are going off to fight wars involving many countries. Since there is no draft, the decision to serve our country weighs entirely on their shoulders. They are bred out of generations of military families who saw service to our country as a noble endeavor.
Our son represents the third generation in our family to serve in the military. Although worried as any parent would be, we supported him in his tour of duty and honor him as he remains in the Air Force Reserves.
It wasn’t until the death of U.S. Army Sgt. Jason Lee of Fruitport several years ago that I witnessed the highest degree of service to our country in the death of one of our soldiers. As his casket was being moved from the funeral home to the church, I lined up along Pontaluna Road with all my students from Edgewood Elementary School to wave American flags as the processional drove by. Only then did the reality of the risk my father, my husband and my son have faced in serving our country hit home.
There were students standing by me who talked about their brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, mothers and fathers who were currently serving in the military. I was shocked that I had no knowledge that I was spending my days at school with many children, who were experiencing the impact of military duty through their family members’ service to our country.
Recently, my father-in-law flew to Washington, D.C., with a group of World War II veterans to tour the memorial to their service. He was a B-17 flight instructor pilot. Although he never saw overseas duty, he was one of a special group of pilots who were chosen to stay behind and train others for the war effort. He crashed twice during training exercises and was fortunate to survive without injuries. He, like many of the Greatest Generation, wanted to serve their country — and did so with pride and commitment to preserving our freedom.
Most recently in the news, we have heard about the elite group of soldiers known as Special Forces. Also mentioned was the Intelligence branch of the military. These are groups, like so many other parts of the military, that we don’t hear about a lot. There are linguists, carpenters, engineers, chefs, clerical, photographers, musicians — and the list goes on and on.
The military is a microcosm of our larger society. However, their goal is unique to them — to protect and defend our country. This task is given to the 1 percent of our total population serving in the military.
Join in the Memorial Day activities to honor our military and their ongoing efforts to protect and defend us. They may be out of sight, but we must recognize their sacrifices by never letting them be “out of mind.”