My mother’s three brothers and one of her three sisters served in the army in WWII. Uncle Buck flew close order air support of ground combat soldiers, one of whom could have been Uncle Bill. Uncle Bud never saw a shot fired in anger but went where he was told. Aunt Betty was an army nurse.
My two brothers and I served in the military during the Viet Nam War as did my sister Jane’s husband, Bruce. Bruce was stationed in North Carolina and was not sent to Viet Nam. My eldest brother, C.E., is a fine musician and the army decided it needed his saxophone for the U.S. Army Field Band more than they needed his rifle.
My other brother, Phil, is an excellent attorney whom the army ordered into the Judge Advocate Corps as they thought his legal advice was more important to the war effort than his fighting. And for reasons known only to the U.S. Air Force my country determined my supposed linguistic skills were more vital for gathering Intelligence than was my body for cannon fodder.
One of my numerous first cousins, Billy Mike, survived a year in combat in Viet Nam and my son, Jim, earned a Combat Infantryman’s Badge in the Gulf War of 1990-91 and another in the Iraq War in 2006. He also earned a Bronze Medal for service in each war. My son, my cousin and two of my uncles dodged enemy fire while my other uncle, my aunt, my brother-in-law, my brothers and I simply went where we were sent.
Twenty-nine of our presidents served in the military before becoming Commander-in-Chief. Some saw combat, some did not. At least two of our recent presidents actively avoided serving themselves but later, as President, sent others into combat. Abraham Lincoln always dreamed of military action and regretted only serving about one month of non-combat service during the Black Hawk War (May 1832–August 1832). Ironically, he later served as our top non-combat “soldier” during our deadliest war.
These differing military/non-military, combat/non-combat circumstances were brought sharply into focus for me last week when some of my siblings (C.E. and his wife Shirley plus my sister Jane along with my wife Peg) and some of my first cousins (Susie, Barbara Joan, Billy Mike and his wife Annette along with their son Ryan) got together in Canada for our first full blown reunion since the Viet Nam War. The hair may now have a lighter hue but absolutely nothing important inside has changed since we threw firecrackers and climbed on the huge sandstone rocks at Osage Hills State Park in Osage County, Oklahoma over half a century ago.
We each almost instantly realized what a debt we owed to our parents and grandparents for all the times they brought us together at Christmas, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, weddings and funerals. The bonds formed in an enchanted childhood not only helped us through these many intervening years although separated by time and space, we found they remain unbreakable even today.
And the strongest bonds were formed by loving relatives who supported those who were strong enough and wise enough to address with action the futility of wars fought for reasons other than national defense or humanitarian necessity.
So, thank you to our ancestors who taught us the value of loving one’s country and one’s family and to those who are keeping the flame burning brightly in spite of time and distance.