Veterans and Veterans Day
I was talking with a shipmate yesterday and it got me to thinking. We are of an age, as a matter of fact, we grew up together, went to school together, enlisted in the Navy at about the same time, and the Navy became our life. We only know each other from Facebook. I grew up near Winston-Salem, NC and he grew up twenty some miles away in Greensboro, NC. I don’t believe we ever met unless it was to nod to each other while at the piss trough in Jim Hanson’s place in Barrio Barretto. One of the topics we discussed was our wonder that here we are living in our mid-seventies when once we wouldn’t have taken a bet that we would see forty.
I remember as a child in the 1950’s seeing my dad, my uncles, and other Veterans struggle to fit into their old uniforms for the Veterans Day Parade and festivities. My dad trained medics at Camp Atterbury in Indiana. There was an uncle who flew Spitfires and P-38’s over Europe. And the cousin who fought in North Africa and Italy as a tanker and tank commander. The man who became my barber after my father died, walked with a limp because of an injury received as a Marine during the invasion of Guadalcanal. There was the young man next door who was drafted for the Korean conflict and the cousin who served as an Army medic during the same war. They all seemed so old to a little boy who idolized them.
Some of the men I remember seemed to be strange. They acted differently from others. Today they call it PTSD. Back in the day, in the country vernacular of my childhood, they were said to act “Queer” (the word has a different meaning now) or they were said to be shell-shocked. There was the old WW1 veteran who lived on the farm above us. He walked everywhere and would refuse to ride in a motor vehicle. I once asked him about the war. He told me, “You don’t need to be hearin’ about that stuff boy, now get back to work.”
My father wasn’t a churchgoer. He would listen to the radio preachers on a Sunday morning as he did some maintenance on his car. I guess I spent enough time with him on those mornings that now to hear a radio sermon takes me back to patching a tire or repacking a wheel bearing. He would go to church for Memorial Day and the Sunday before Veterans Day.
The only uniform I have left is a set of choker whites, I last wore it at my retirement. It is still dressed in the Anchors, Medals, and Ribbons. Alas, it is a uniform for a time when I could and did wear a younger man’s clothes. So, I’ll just leave it there in the clothes bag to collect more dust until another bout of nostalgia causes me to drag it out again.
Perhaps on some future Veteran’s Day, I’ll come to the mind of one of my neighbors’ kids, a niece or nephew and they will wonder about my life as I did about the Veterans I knew. As I said earlier, I idolized them. I wonder if my life and service will generate the same feelings from a future generation.