A Sense of Duty
(Reprinted with permission of Military magazine, 2122 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. A sample copy of Military may be obtained by writing to the above address).
As the turn of the century approaches, the ranks of those who once wore a uniform and preserved our freedom grows ever thinner. Recent wars and military actions lasted only a few days and the numbers of troops involved were small compared to the millions who served in World War II, Korea, Viet-Nam and the Cold War. It doesn’t take an insurance actuary to understand that with today’s ever diminishing volunteer force veterans are becoming a vanishing breed.
Even today, what was once Armistice Day, then designated Veteran’s Day in 1954, isn’t recognizable compared to the celebrations of the 1940s and 1950s. Then, a grateful nation turned out to cheer and salute those who had served as they proudly marched down every Main street in America. . . and “a right” to burn the flag would never have been a matter of serious discussion in Congress. Back then I was so caught up in the patriotism that at age 12, I joined the local VFW junior drum and bugle corps. Young men knew that our fathers and older brothers had fought and died for all of us. . . and that as corny as it may sound to many today we understood “freedom is not free.” My father explained to me that one day I’d have to “pay my dues”. . . that it was my duty. Many in my generation looked forward to it and joined. Others met their obligation when drafted, which was just an accepted fact of life. . . very few thought otherwise. To this day I believe two years in the military made responsible citizens out of millions of young men who lacked direction.
And oh, the wonderful memories. Sergeant First Class Cartigina, our platoon sergeant in basic training. . . running us until we puked our guts out. . . cursing us and then teaching. . . no molding us into soldiers. . . he, a man who never seemed to sweat, a man with a Combat Infantryman Badge. . . the man who made me a squad leader. . . a “rag corporal”. . . god, what a special day that was. I remember spit-shined boots, brass that gleamed, the ripping sound of starched fatigues as you put them on and bitch as we did, I recall the esprit de corps we exhibited at those Saturday morning parades and the swagger of a young OCS graduate with his brand new gold bar.
We learned to meet and often exceed the standards set for us, accomplishing things we never would have thought possible, as individuals and as a unit. We got drunk and laughed at danger together. . . then we paid our dues, because I also remember jungles and young men dying. Today, I reflect upon it as having had the honor to have served with the most magnificent group of men I ever met in that special brotherhood of arms. I wouldn’t trade a day of it. . . well maybe a couple.
Now when I go to reunions, what stands out is the camaraderie felt by all. . . the pride in having been “there” and having been tested, whether it was for two years or 30. There’s also the jokes and the gratitude for crusty old DIs who chewed our asses out and made men of us and for the officers who led us in battle. . . special things that coward in the White House will never know or understand.
A few volunteers comprise today’s military. . . the finest ever I’m told and I believe it. But something is missing. America was personally involved when almost every family had someone in the service. And the heartland reacted when their sons’ lives were placed in harm’s way for no good reason. Sadly, that is no longer the case. There was hardly an outcry as 45 good men died in an anal cavity of the third world called Mogadishu, in 1993 on a UN “nation building” operation that had nothing to do with our national security. They were just the nameless faceless soldiers of today’s volunteer military. . . someone else’s sons. . . “mercenaries”. . . “nobody forced them to join”. . . people actually said that. After 20 years of a volunteer force, something have been lost.
For the generation X. . freedom has been free. . . bought and paid for by “old uncle Bill who still mumbles about a place called the Chosin and grandpaw who says he fought the Japanese. They make Hondas, don’t they?” Clinton has set some low standards for America’s young concerning truth, cheating and letting someone else put their ass on the line in time of danger. One hell of a lot of our young feel everyone else owes them something, and I fear that includes defending America. I urge each of you out there to sit down with your grandchildren (if you can get them to listen) and tell them about your service. .. about the sacrifices made. . . our education system sure as hell won’t teach them. Somehow we need to restore a sense of duty in our young. Otherwise twenty years from now only a handful of veterans will be left to gather in the park as 11 November passes with less fanfare than Valentine’s Day.