I realized today that I don’t have any photos of my Dad in uniform. I don’t have a lot of family photos, period. Too many moves, too much time passed, so little foresight of the future when I was just a girl. Really, though, it’s too many moves. When you move something like 19 times before you’re 18, it takes a toll. Someone, somewhere, said that three moves is like a house fire. I think that means I’ve lived through something like seven houses full of stuff gone? My First Reader is going to look at this and mumble about clutter and good things. But I grew up a military brat, and moving was a fact of life.
I was born in Nebraska. Dad had a choice when I came along: risk being sent off into the meatgrinder that was Vietnam, or risk not being able to support his new and growing family. He signed on with the Air Force, and in a moment of munificence they gave him some time to see me born, which means he missed the war by four days. He would go on to spend ten years in the USAF during the height of the Cold War – he got out just as the Iron Curtain was falling – and we were there right alongside him. For most of the trip. He had one duty station where we couldn’t go along, and like a lot of other photos, I’ve lost some that he took up there. The musk ox, the photos of the Russian Mainland taken from the US Mainland (during a particularly tense period when cat-and-mouse games were being played literally over his head), the picture of the jungle he managed to cultivate at one end of his barracks room with houseplants and a Hawaiian dancing girl scultpure.
I didn’t get to know him before his service, but I’m sure that it changed him. Deepened, widened, and painfully carved him into the man I did grow up knowing, and still get to chat on the phone with from time to time. He was painfully young when he went in, and had me, and even though the military wasn’t his career choice, it was what formed him, and had even before he went in, as he came of age with the Draft and as a military brat himself. I may not have a photo of him in uniform, but I do have one of him just before he married Mom – and about a year before I was born (I was a honeymoon baby!).
They’re lovely, aren’t they? They would have been 18 and 19 here. I’m twice what Dad was then, plus an odd year or so, and I remember what I was like at that age. It’s astonishing to me that the young men and women who devote their life to serving their countries are so sane and solid and rational. But you have to be if you’re facing what he faced, and anyone who made that oath has. It’s not about whether we’re in a shooting war right now, it’s that we could be at any given moment – not to mention the petty squabbles in desolate places that have claimed the lives of the young and brave for no good reason. Other than they laid down their lives in service, so that we might live freely.
I don’t idolize the uniforms. But I know, being married to one, child of another, and having so many friends who were such, that it takes a special kind of person to serve. To be willing to kiss their young wife and walk away, potentially to never return to the infant they barely got to know, because their country called on them.
That’s a veteran. That’s why this day is sacred. That’s why I say thank you, even though I know it makes them squirm with embarrassment. Because they chose this when they could have taken an easier path.