Happy Veterans Day

We have to stop making new veterans, especially VFWs, but until we do we should honor them for their service.

Huxley's grandpa, who served in the Navy in the Asian theater during Viet Nam, is stopping by Huxley's school today for a flag raising ceremony. I'm always on the fence when dealing with issues of patriotism in child raising. My family is not big on American Exceptionalism, and jingoistic patriotism is part of that. But honoring vets is fine. Of course, I had to explain to Huxley what a "veteran" was, and that opened a whole can of worms. It is rather amazing what kids put together from bits and pieces. I look forward to hearing his story from today.

I think I evaded the draft because I became eligible a few days before they got rid of it. My brother, who did not end up getting drafted, drew Lottery Number One during draft year number one back during Viet Nam. My father was a decorated war hero in WW II, involved with Operation Overlord, Normandy Invasion, but he did it without firing a shot. They wouldn't let him fight and kept him in England, but he did figure out how to make the process of putting together war planes at a secret military base significantly more efficient, and that's why the King and the US Army Air Corp gave him these two medals he didn't like showing off. One of my grandfathers is one of those famous WW I vets who fell to the flu (but lived) and thus avoided going forward with his unit to be slaughtered in one of those famous trench battles where everyone died. For a long time we still had the blanket he was issued to cover himself at the makeshift field hospital. It was black and made of felt at the Albany Felt Factory, where he later had a job as a security guard. I may be mixing up grandfathers.

Veteran-ness was important to my father in ways different than it seems to be today. He, and his comrades from WW II, didn't celebrate veterans day or wear their uniforms or shoot off guns. But man joined the American Legion (for non-war vets) or the VFW (for war vets) or both (my father did both). This is where men who were not in country clubs made contacts, sold their insurance or made other deals, got discounts on a hall for their daughter's marriage, ran a money-making Bingo operation that funded various charity efforts, and so on. Oh, and got a really good price on a glass of beer. Or ten. I spent a lot of time at VFW Post 1019. They didn't let me touch the beer, though. Oh, and clambakes. Formative experiences for me.

When I was a mere teenager, I had a unique and remarkable experience related to veterans. I got a job, which I held for three years (and more or less did instead of high school) in an archaeological and history research unit of the city. But the entire program was funded by a US government program essentially designed to employ the many veterans, many from Viet Nam, we were producing at the time. So, other than one other guy, I was much of the time the only male person in the program who was not a vet. There were three kinds of vets in that program. There were combat vets who had become seriously addicted to drugs and could not function at all, and they were put in the attic of City Hall where they mostly sat around with their eyes closed. There was not much help in those days for such folks. Regular guys, just very messed up. The other sort of vet were those who had served but not in Viet Nam. One guy was in combat in the Navy but in WW II, another guy was in WW II but in some other country's army. But most of those not in Viet Nam per se were in Germany or somewhere, and they were not quite viewed the same way as the combat vets. But most of the folks I worked with were Viet Nam era combat vets, and they became my good friends.

They all had issues and stories. Our boss, Bob Arnold, was a career soldier, not always for the US military, and had spent a lot of time in Viet Nam from the very early days to the later days. His father was a general, and his desire in life for a long time was to become the best soldier he could be, and he did that. Oddly, even though he had spent the most time in combat, he had no obvious debilitating wounds (though he had a few purple hearts, if I recall correctly). Most of the other guys did. And, we turned out to be related. He married the sister of my brother's wife. There was a core group that was there the whole time, mostly Army, infantry and special forces, and a Marine. But a larger number came and went more quickly, flowing through the process on their way out of the military and into civilian life. They all told stories. Later in time I went to see the film Platoon, which is essentially a series of vignettes from Viet Nam. None of the things that happened in that move were new to me. They were all stories I had heard before, and many were of a form that apparently happened repeatedly in that war.

Imagine an office full of recently returned combat vets. Imagine some other dudes tearing down a building across the street, for a month, by knocking one bit after another down to produce a large boom each time. Imagine the forth of July. Imagine post traumatic stress (we now call it) and a good dose of alcohol among good friends on a Friday afternoon (with peanuts). Or imagine being in the field doing archaeology when some jerk of a kid with a .22 fires a few rounds at us from across the creek. My friends spent a lot of time hitting the deck. I spent a lot of time not making loud noises. We had a good first aid kit.

Anyway, that's what I think about when Veterans day comes around.

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