Wednesday, May 30, 2012


This Memorial day, I placed a flag outside my home to honor the fallen.

I wasn’t out there at dawn, I didn’t’ take it down until after dark, But I have always made sure that it never touches the ground when I’m handling it,  and that the tree out front is always trimmed back so as not to touch the flag while it is displayed.

There are always two other houses with flags displayed on these days, My neighbors across the street, One a Highway patrolman who was in the Army, and his roommate who has a Marine sticker and Southwest-Asia campaign ribbon on his mustang. (I think they’re gay, I’ve never asked, and they’ve never told. It means Nothing).

The other flag belongs to a Navy reservist. I’ve met him once or twice. Never remember his name, but on these days when we see each other there is a solemn nod we give each other. It’s different than the normal wave, it’s hard to explain, but for those of us we know what it means.

There has been a lot of discussion this week about calling our servicemen heroes, not just the fallen but everyone who has served in uniform. This was in part inspired by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes comments.  And it struck up a furious debate.

I served in the Marine Corps Reserves for 6 years, with much of that time active duty either for Desert Storm, or recruiter duty.  I am considered by my DD214 a “Combat Vet” and have a Combat Action Ribbon.

Since 9/11 and the war in Iraq it has become vogue for people to thank me for my service when they learn I am a vet. I am very uncomfortable with that. Because of my service people have called me a hero.  I am Profoundly Uncomfortable with this.

I come from a family that serves; not joining the military was never really an option for me. I was never forced to join; in fact my parents would not sign for a Delayed Enlistment when I wanted to join the Army at 17. My father (USMC 1963-1966, Vietnam) explained to me that it needed to be my choice, and that they didn’t want me holding it against them if I came to regret my decision. My first grown up decision, Thank you Dad.
Service for me and mine is just something we do. I served, my Dad served, My Grandfather served. My Grandfather later told us he ducked a deferment to get into the war because both his brothers were serving and he couldn’t be the one… see himself… ok I just spent a minute trying to figure out how to explain it. It is another example that those of us just know, and I lack the skills to explain it in words. But another who I could share a solemn nod to would grasp it in a heartbeat.

Service for us is just our nature, it does not make us heroes. It just makes us Different. And maybe for those who aren’t perhaps they think we’re heroic. I don’t.

I’ve been blessed to meet some very interesting people. I’ve met  a Higgens Boat coxswain who delivered his troops onto Omaha Beach. I had a gentleman work for me who was a radar operator on one of the Taffys at the Battle of Samar. I met my Grandfather-in-law before he died. He served on the South Dakota though the war, Including the Second Battle of Guadalcanal. I met a man once who was with the First Marine Division at the Frozen Chosin.

These places and battles might not mean anything to you, but for some of us they are hallowed words spoken of with reverence.

And if you had asked every one of these persons if they thought they were a hero they would answer in the negative. They were just doing their job. They did it scared to death but they did it.

Where was I going with this…?

I’ve “seen the elephant”. But the elephant I saw was a kiddie ride out side of a grocery store. Others like the ones above really saw the elephant. They saw Jumbo charging out of the brush. And I in my heart know I have no idea what I would have done in their circumstance.  I hope I would have acquitted myself with honor.

Most of my good friends are ex-military. We tend to flock together. I have a friend who served on P-3’s during the cold war.  They had a double engine fire one mission and almost crashed.

One of the things missed in the collective consciousness of America in peacetime is how many servicemen die. Planes go down, vehicles roll. Someone falls overboard. And a family member gets a knock at the door.
Once when I was recruiting I stopped at a house of a young man we had lost contact with. The look on his mother’s face when she answered the door haunts me to this day. He had left for the Navy a few weeks prior.  

I had a fight with a girlfriend once when she took exception to me always talking about how great people in the military were. (I was recruiting at the time) Basically it was the” “What makes you so special?” My response was simple.

“These are people who put their lives on hold, they give 4 years of their lives to be part of something bigger them themselves.”

Now-a-days I don’t think that makes them special.  Just Different.

I miss the young me, I had all the answers back then.

You ever see “Saving Private Ryan”? You want to know the one scene that gets be every time? Actually it’s two parts, but it really is the same scene.

End of the movie,  Captain Miller lays dying. His last words are to Private Ryan. “earn this, earn it”

And the first part of the movie. Where the much older Ryan asks his wife to tell him he was a good man.

That is the scene that goes through my mind every time I see someone thanking someone for their service. That is what I feel when I went through my day last Monday. “Am I earning this?”

And I think the next time someone thanks me for my service. I’ll answer them not for myself, but answer them as the representative of those people who are not  here.

“earn it”

Well that was cathartic. 

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