Happy Veteran's Day!
Just thinking about all of the men and women who are serving and have served our country over the past 236 years; their sacrifices, their courage and their patriotism. Every American owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude. For those who paid the price of freedom with their lives, it is a debt we can never repay. I sincerely hope we, as a democratic nation, understand how valuable a gift we have been given to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
My youngest daughter, Brittany, just called me to thank me for my service. I was surprised, first, because I do not think about myself as a veteran and, second, my service, as it were, was completed before either of my girls reached the age of reason. I have told them a few stories of my time in the Army and Air Force National Guard, but they are more humorous than tales of daring do or bravery.
It was December, 1967 and I was about to end 48 hours of non-stop studying and take the mid-term final in my history class. I was struggling that semester in all my subjects; a consequence of having discovered beer and the love of my life and new fiance, Vicki, both of which I spent entirely too much time with that fall instead of having my nose in the books. On the way to the test I heard a public service announcement on the radio about the formation of a new Airborne Army National Guard unit opening up at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. The radio said that only 40 recruits would be taken starting the next morning. As I miserably failed the test that evening I realized that not only was my semester in the dumpster but my student deferment was about to hit the trash heap as well. The next morning I withdrew from UT so my potential string of F's would never hit my transcript, drove out to Camp Mabry and enlisted.
I shipped off with my fellow recruits on February 9th to basic training at the aging Fort Polk, outside Leesville, By God, Louisiana. There I learned to love my poncho, shoot an M-14, do the low-crawl through 200 yards of ice cold mud, and tune out a 20-year veteran drill sergeant hell bent on breaking my ear drums and turning me into a 180-pound block of chiseled steel. Try three months of that for a living while you feast on S.O.S and something we called "the brown meal".
Next up...MOS School. MOS is the acronym for Military Occupational Specialty and I spent my time at Fort Sam Houston, Texas training to become a Medic. It was actually excellent training and I learned a lot about medicine, anatomy, biology and emergency human repair. Unfortunately, our company commander, a brand new Captain with an alcohol problem, had us white-washing everything that didn't move during the day while we were not in classes and scrubbing the barracks floor with a toothbrush half the night. No problem for a 180-pound block of chiseled steel, right.
Now it was crunch time. Off we went to Ft. Benning, GA. As cold and rainy as it was in Louisiana in February, central Georgia in July and August was hotter than hell and HUMID! Bottom line on Airborne (Jump) School? Fantastic training but even louder drill sergeants. At least it was all designed to keep you alive as we jumped out of perfectly good C-119's five times before graduation. After five weeks I emerged as a 169-pound block of even more chiseled steel and ready to get the hell out of active military duty. Six months total plus six years of monthly duty with a two-week summer camp every year. I served, I guess.
We were attached to the 101st Airborne Division. A similar group up in Columbus, OH was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. Their National Guard unit was called up to Vietnam. Ours never was.
So I was a veteran and put in my time, but have never considered my service in a league with those who have fought, died, or even put themselves in harm's way. Those are the real heroes of our nation....and we honor them today.
God bless our service men and women!