I thank You for your Service and your Love and LessonsPosted: November 13, 2016
My dad was fifteen years old in this picture. Not old enough to vote or drive. But old enough to be a patriot and to understand that love for one’s country meant collective responsibility. And so he enlisted, ready to serve our nation in its fight for the soul of the world during WWII. After basic training, my father was sent to the West Coast ready to ship out to battles in the Pacific when they discovered his real age and sent him back home.
But service to democracy was important to him. He waited until he was seventeen and then lied again about his birthdate and enlisted into the Army again. This time he was sent to serve in Germany, just as the war was ending. Germany was a land of rubble, decimated by the destruction wrought by war. The people of Germany, our enemies, had no place to sleep and little food or water. My dad remembered this as a time he also went hungry. While we often think of soldiers as warriors, rarely do we envision them also as ambassadors of what is good about our country. My dad was hungry because he and his brothers in arms were giving their limited food away to hungry Germans. Kindness. Compassion. Love of country. Patriotism. The putting of others before oneself are the virtues I remember on this Veterans Day.
Years later, when my dad was in Vietnam he wrote a letter home worried that we, the shining city on the hill, the light of the world, was losing its honor, its virtue by violating many conventions that governed professional soldiers. He worried that we were losing our way.
Today I saw video of protesters who shattered glass windows and attacked citizens on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. I personally have been screamed at, called shame-inducing names that end with “ists” and “isms” that I don’t deserve, and been unfriended on FB, even by a cousin, because of my basic right to vote my conscience.
My dad and countless others fought for that basic right and many other rights that are the cornerstones of our democracy. Today as a Nation, we thank Vets for their service. But if we truly want to honor them with more than just words, if we truly want to be that shining city, that light unto the world, let’s start by just trying to understand one another before judging them. Dad, your spirit is with me every single day, in everything I do and think. I thank you for your service and your love and the lessons that your example has had on molding my life. I only wish that we would have had more time together in this life’s journey.
A lot of people do not realize that during WWII, underage soldiers served our country with unwavering valor. Many became career soldiers and maintained the secret of their true birth-dates for fear of dishonorable discharges, court martials, and complete loss of benefits.
I remember as a child it was taboo for me to talk about my dad’s birthday to anyone outside our family, even though I did not fully comprehend the reason why. To this day, his birthdate on his service records remains incorrect. It wasn’t until after Jimmy Carter granted amnesty for the Vietnam draft dodgers, that underage soldiers pushed to reverse the dishonorable discharges so many had been issued for their honorable service. And almost two decades after my father died, Ronald Reagan finally passed legislation to restore their benefits.