11 November 2005

A Veteran's Day Ramble

We do this every year: honor our veterans. I am always happy to do so. When I was in school, I was the resident "expert" on World War II. So of course I have, and still have, an appreciation for the Greatest Generation.

But there is one veteran who, I have always believed, will never get his due. I mean, of course--and The Wall notwithstanding--the Vietnam Vet. You Vietnam vets don't know this, but when I see those bumper stickers I always do a brief "eyes right" when I pass you on the highway. (Brief, because I'm driving, you see.)

For good or ill (and I believe it was for good) I joined the Army because of you. I am old enough to have seen the protests, complete with draft card burning, on the evening news. I grew up in a college town. College students always seemed to think they were smarter then everybody else, and the ones I observed never had any kind words for Vietnam vets.

But I had uncles who served in Vietnam. And listening to those college punks made my little 8 year old blood boil. And I decided that before I did anything else in life, I would serve in my country's armed forces. Ten years later, it turned out to be the Army. That's because I saw "Patton" on TV. After that, it just had to be Army.

Of my service I will say only this. I served because I was convinced it was my duty. And when I enlisted (January 1984), I truly believed that NATO and the Warsaw Pact would soon have it out: I was convinced--perhaps even hoped--that I would see combat. So, I served during the Cold War, a "war" that someone (Tom Clancy?) described as a war with no battles and no monuments, only casualties. First, I was at Fort Carson, Colorado, in the 1st Squadron, 10th U.S. Cavalry (a cavalry unit comprised of both tankers and scouts). Then, I went to Germany and served in the 2d of the 32d Armor (later, the 4th of the 67th), 3d Brigade, 3d Armor Division (Spearhead). The mission of the 3d Armor Division was to defend the so-called Fulda Gap. I can assure you, it was a mission we took seriously. I don't know about any other element of 3d Div, but the 4-67 "Bandits" were fanatical, about being both soldiers and tankers"--probably because our battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel J. S. Wheeler was pretty fanatical. I really enjoyed those get-togethers on Bandit Field for our two-fold purpose. Really. I did. (Elvis Presley, by way, had been a tanker in the same outfit.)

The previous paragraph was designed to give some background for this statement. I joined the Army because I thought I had a duty to do, not because I lacked education (which, in fact, I did) and not because I had few job prospects (which, again, I had). And most of the soldiers I served with felt the same way. After all, in an all-volunteer force, you may join because you have no job prospects, but I just don't think it stands to reason that you join the combat arms. There are enough other jobs in the Army that you can do if you're joining just to have a job.

I'm thinking about that today because I have heard yet again someone on the radio suggest that joblessness is why people join. (You know how they do it. They start off by being all talk and weeping about being concerned for our troops and blah, blah, blah.) It ticks me off. I'm also thinking about it because of all those people who keep trying to insist that the war in Iraq is some Vietnamesque "quagmire". @#$% that!

I don't think I could attach a monetary value to what I got out of the service. I got so much. One thing I think I got was a fast-track to maturity. Whenever I went home on leave it seemed that a lot of people I graduated high school with were getting older, but still living pretty much the same way we did in high school--except just not living at mom and dad's. When I got out and went to college, I felt so much older (at 23) than the 18 year old freshmen. Children. All of them. And they still were when they were juniors. Desert Storm took place while I was at college. Those children protested the "senseless death" and blah, blah, blah. (I was tempted, every time I walked past their protests to salute them by extending my middle finger. But I had become a Christian by that time and wasn't sure that Jesus would like that.) One of the regular protesters was a girl named--get this--Pansy. I thought that was a very appropriate name for a liberal, of any sex.

This "fast track to maturity" didn't just come by being in the Army. It came by virtue of my specific job. It starting coming to me as a result of one of my first classes at Holder Complex at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. In that class we learned how men in tanks die when their tanks get hit. I'll just say, "Not pretty." (I'm sure the Infantry got a similar lesson.) Confronted with your mortality at age 19. It was even more serious two years later when I was in Germany, when the alert siren would go off. No one actually ever said it, but there were times we wondered if this time it was for the real, especially when, to hear the left tell it, Ronaldus Magnus (R.I.P.) doing everything he could to provoke the Warsaw Pact. And even if he were doing precisely that, let me just say that I was all for it and am darn glad to have been even an infinitismal part of his evil plan provoke the Union of Soviet Swallowed Republics.

One other thing I have from the Army--the memory of guys whose names I hope I may never forget. For example: Gary Clark and John D. Sparks (my Drill Sergeants at Ft. Knox), Richard Shevlin, Scott Jeffrey, Levy Rouse, Mark Milne, David Workman, Todd Reed, Jeff Allison (I'm sorry about that I.D. thing), William Peters ("Momma Hen"), Tim Harvey, Luis P. Venero, Jeff Sanders, Pat Stowe, Michael Marsh (a.k.a. "Marsh the Harsh"), Gary Hughes ("Master Blaster"), Pat Simmet ("Fill to this Line"), "Bear" Garner (Viva the "boot"!), Barry Freeman, Billy Ray Bell, Jim Cotton, Gilberto Marrufo, Jeremiah Nieves, Charles Crenshaw, Ray Earl Johnson, Bill Powell, David Christensen, Ray McFarland (Delta Co. 1st Sergeant) and Michael K. Seidl (Delta Co. CO).

And all because I saw Vietnam veterans treated like dog doo-doo by a bunch of smarter- and holier-than-thou college wussies! I don't know who to thank.

Perhaps I was a little too "gung-ho" about it. (Oh, the "band-of-brothers" of it all!) But then, I saw my service as a sort of tribute to those Vietnam vets that I knew and revered as a kid. I didn't want to be a let-down. Whatever. Everyone who enlists (or gets commissioned) has his reasons. At least, to quote Patton again, when I think about where I was at the height of tension between NATO and Warsaw, I won't have to say, "Well, I shoveled [excrement] in Louisiana." (It's not much, but it's something.)

All right. That's what it looks like when I get emotional. Now you know how I feel. Not that it matters to anyone but me. But hooah, anyway.

Tankers lead the way.



Unknown said...

It matters to a whole bunch of us redstaters. I would recommend a book "Born to Fight" the history of the Scots/Irish, published last year.

God bless all our veterans.

Unknown said...

I was at Calvin College when I enlisted. I was not a very good student...always reading books I wanted to and not the assigned one...I went down to the recruiters office and signed up. I would never have finsihed college or devloped motivation and discipline had I not been in the Army. I miss the Army, especially when I deal with people who have no motivation or discipline...sometimes it seemed so easy.

Matt Powell said...

Never been in the military, never will be at this point, most likely. But I appreciate all our military does for us. Thanks for the post.

Gone for now said...

Military service carries with it something called absolute liability. Although I never served on a war front, and I probably gained more from the service than I ever gave, I was always ready and liable to give my life for my country in the Air Force. This may not count for much, but at least it makes me feel like I have given something. I would not trade my service for the world. I would recommend it to any young man who may not have loads of money for the easy life. I have done my time of indentured servitude to Uncle Sam, and no one can take that from me. Hoorah!


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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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