In Gainesville, Florida, where I live, every memorial day weekend up and down one main street, little cardboard tombstones are erected for each person who died serving the United States in the Armed Forces. Every year, I am absolutely amazed at how many there are, and I am reminded of my dad, and all the others, who served this country, and all the people who are continuing to do so.
I grew up hearing fantastic stories from my dad about his life. If you have ever seen the movie Big Fish, or read the book by the same name, the father in the story reminds me very much of my dad. Honestly, I am still not sure what stories were true and which were “fish tales”. At this point I don’t know how I would be able to confirm or deny them, but I do hope that this one, my favorite, the one about how he joined the army at age 16, is true.
My dad grew up in an abusive household. I know that much is true. His father was a mean alcoholic and his mother was a classic enabler. My dad was the eldest son and had one brother and twin sisters. They each had their demons, as is to be expected when growing up the way they did. My dad tried for years to be the protector of his mom and siblings both when they were children and after they grew to be adults. Because my dad was the eldest, or because he tried to protect his mother and siblings, or because he had blue eyes, or was a smart ass, who knows the reason, my dad seemed to receive the brunt of the abuse. It became imperative for him to leave the house. I think that decision haunted him for the rest of his life.
My dad went to a Catholic school for years on charity. The story goes that the hospital where my dad was born burned down, taking all of the paperwork, including my dad’s birth certificate, with it. I know this is true.
One day when my dad was 16 years old, a priest, who knew my dad’s family situation, called my dad into his office to speak to him. My father told him that he wanted to join the Army, as soon as possible. The priest told my dad that he was too young to do that but if he were to join, he would need an official letter stating my dad was 18 years of age. A letter written on stationary that was kept in the top drawer to the right of where the priest was sitting. The letter would have to be sealed with an official seal as well, with a seal that was kept in the bookshelf behind the priest. After doing everything but writing the letter himself, the priest excused himself and left my dad in his office to write it on his own.
My father joined the Army at 16 years old, and I believe it saved his life. He was stationed in Germany and was in combat in Korea. Sixteen years old is four years older than my eldest son is now. It’s surreal to think about. I know my sons won’t feel the need to join the service for the same reasons my dad did, but if they chose to join for any other reason, I would support their decision.
I am liberal in my leanings. My thought process is that I want a country that will take care of those who need it, feed those who are hungry, educate everyone, and respect all regardless of color, religious preference, sexual orientation, disability, shape, size, etc. My religion is none and my heart bleeds for all. Having said that, I have nothing but respect for everyone who has joined any branch of the armed forces, for whatever reason. I cannot imagine many of the people who join the military do so thinking that they will die in service to our country, but many do. I don’t want to get into my feelings about war and the government in general, but my feelings about those who serve in the military are nothing but pure gratitude, on many levels.