Monday, November 12, 2012

Veterans’ Day 2012

When I was a kid, Veterans’ Day was a holiday. Which meant no school, no mail, and no work.

It was certainly fitting that it meant no work. This was the 1950’s and 1960’s, when most of the workforce was made up of men, and most of those men had been in the service.

Unless they grew up in some gated pacifist community, it is impossible to imagine anyone who was not 0-1 degree of separation from folks who had been in the military.

My father had spent 4 years in the Navy in WW II, but that was no different than pretty much everyone else’s father.

Even my feckless Uncle Charlie, who managed to weasel out of pretty much any responsibility over the course of his life, spent a bit of time in the Army during the waning days of The War. It wasn’t quite Hitler enlisting 12 year old boys and 72 year old accountants to defend Berlin, but the Army must have been fairly hard up if they felt the need to dragoon my uncle, well into his thirties by the time his uncle (Sam, that is) caught up with him.

The stories were told that by the time they got Charlie, Ft. Devens was out of uniforms and guns. Thus, Charlie and his fellow draftees drilled wearing their civilian clothing and carrying fake rifles. (Actually, Charlie was probably drilling wearing my father’s civilian clothing. When my father returned from his war, he went to look for his suits, only to be told by Charlie that moths had gotten to them. My father’s assumption was that his brother had worn them out or pawned them.)

In any case, Charlie didn’t last very long before he received a medical discharge for hearing loss.

Still, Charlie was a veteran and is, thus, entitled to his flag on the other side of the combo-grave he shares with my father,  mother and grandmother.

Without further digression on Charlie, during my childhood, pretty much every able bodied male was in the service.

I remember an “incident” when some boys were jumping in on (and spoiling) the jump roping of me and my friends. I threatened that I was going to tell on them to my grown up cousin Charlie – nephew, not son, of the famous Uncle Charlie – who was then in the Army. And that Charlie would come by and beat them up and/or shoot [at] them. So there!

Even in peace time, being in the service was expected, maybe even a little exciting. After all, folks in the service got to go to exotic places, even if it were only Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Jack around the corner was stationed in Germany and came back home with a German bride. (Boy, was Hildy ever happy to find my mother, the only German in our Irischer neighborhood.)

One of the son’s of my father’s friend Chuck was in the Air Force in Europe, and we were thrilled to see his slide show of the Brussels World Fair. (Did I mention that it was a simpler time…)

A classmate’s older brother was stationed in Japan and sent back a geisha doll. Ooh, aah…

It was routine to see young men in uniform pretty much everywhere: downtown, at a ball game, on the train.

Certainly, they weren’t as prevalent as they would have been a decade or two earlier, but seeing soldiers and sailors out and about was pretty much part of every day life.

Of course, by the time the boys in uniform were my age, the Viet Nam War was at its height, and only the unfortunate sons got stuck going.

In may official capacity as a Student Council officer, I went to the funeral of a schoolmate’s brother who’d been killed n Nam.

The morbid story circulated that his mother had insisted on seeing him, and that his face had been unrecognizable: swollen and black.

I remember little about the funeral, other than that it was colossally sad.

While most of the “boys” I grew up with did not end up going over, all of their lives were impacted by Viet Nam one way or another, and I did know a lot of folks who served in the military (including a good friend from high school who became a Navy nurse).

Now I do not know one person who is on active duty, and very few who have served in the last twenty or so years.

But I do have few veterans to wish Happy Veterans’ Day to. So I wish them a day of rest, and a free breakfast at Denny’s and whatever else is on offer.

By the time I began working, Veterans’ Day as a widely observed holiday (in business) had gone the way of the dodo bird, squeezed out by popular demand to have off the day after Thanksgiving, so that we could do our latter-day patriotic duty and shop. Or loll around eating turkey sandwiches with stuffing and cranberry sauce. (Yum, actually.)

But to hell with the rest of us. Maybe veterans should get the day off.

Happy Veterans’ Day: this one’s for you.

Last year’s Veterans’ Day post.

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