Today is Veteran’s Day. I have a lot of veterans in my life, and in my family. One of my very best friends spent two tours in the Middle East, and my grandfather and his brother were both Marines. I came so close to joining the Army, I was very nearly a soldier myself.
When we moved back to Houston, I started high school. I’ve always hated PE, especially since I tried cross-country in 6th grade and felt like dying. So of course the school tried to get me to take PE since the dance class I wanted was already full. (I did eventually get into that, too.) The only other thing that counted for a PE credit was JROTC. We had the Army version of JROTC at my school, with a rifle team and drill team and everything. So I signed up.
I joined JROTC sort of as a joke – haha, screw you guys, I’m not taking PE! But I really enjoyed certain aspects of it. I liked learning the chain of command, and having the routine. I did not like having to iron my uniform and wear it to school every Thursday, where everyone called us the Pickle Patrol because the uniforms were green. I also didn’t like war, but in some way it seemed so far removed from what we were doing that I rarely thought about that.
I spent three years in JROTC and two years on the drill team, spinning heavy replica rifles in nifty designs. I passed out in formation twice from locking my knees in the hot Texas sun. I won ribbons at drill competitions. This was Texas, ok?
Naturally, when it came time to start thinking about taking the SATs, I decided to take the ASVAB as well. It’s a test that helps place you into a job or whatever in the military. I got nearly a perfect verbal SAT score, but an abysmal math score. But apparently on the ASVAB I scored so much higher than average that they wanted me to be a scientist or mathematician of some sort. Recruiters started calling me from all the branches of the military, and I seriously began to consider signing up.
Sometimes I think back to that time and wonder how my life would have been different if I had joined the military. I would have been able to finish college, would have had a stable routine, learned a lot. I probably would have discovered my underlying bipolar disorder and been discharged, actually. Maybe before or after I was sent to Iraq. But none of that happened because I never signed up. I never signed up because my grandfather changed my mind.
My grandfather joined the Marine Corp to go fight in WWII. On his application he stated the reason he wanted to join the Marines was to learn how to read. I got a copy of his app from the VA a few years ago, and it totally broke my heart. His brother Peck wouldn’t let him sign up alone, so he joined as well. Peck went to Guadalcanal and my grandfather went to Iwo Jima.
I was always curious about his military chest growing up. I knew that it had a Japanese sword in it, but I was so young and naive I never really thought about what that meant, or how he came to obtain it. But my grandfather refused to talk about it. After he was back from the war, he was a Marine recruiter for a few years before he became an insurance salesman. He was so charismatic that he made an excellent insurance salesman and took good care of our entire family.
But he regretted being a recruiter. He told me one day with tears in his eyes that he wished he had never done it. Now I think about the soldiers he must have signed up, the ones that never came back. My grandpa was a strong man, but he was also a good man. I don’t think he ever got over what he saw at Iwo Jima, or the young men he sent to war.
Meanwhile, I was young and naive and headstrong. I was pissed off that women were not allowed in forward combat positions, and that was the sole reason (at first) that I decided to pass on joining the Army. When I decided not to join, my grandfather was SO PROUD of me. He beamed. When I won a creative writing scholarship to the University of Houston, he practically floated me down to buy stuff for my dorm and get me ready to go. If I hadn’t dropped out I would’ve been the first person in my immediate family to finish college. So maybe I will someday.
My grandfather is gone, his brother gone, everyone that raised me is gone, except for my mother. All I have are the memories they gave me and stories they shared. I count myself blessed that all of my friends that have gone off to war have come home. I know that is pretty special. So to all my Veteran friends that DID go through with it, did sign up, made it through basic training, and served our country, I want to say thank you.
I do not agree with the war machine. I do not support the killing of innocents. If it were up to me, I would drain all of our military funding and put it into healthcare and education. Maybe we will get there someday. But in the meantime, the military gives opportunity to those where none existed before, and I really don’t think a civilian can ever understand the sacrifices that they make. It is some hard shit.
Being respectful is not difficult. Hug a veteran. You don’t have to thank them for their service. Most of them hate that. But you can appreciate their experience, and hire them, and be patient with their PTSD. They deserve so much, maybe everything, because they truly get screwed over the most. It’s a shameful thing, the way we treat our veterans. There is so much room for improvement. Let us improve, and maybe soon, we will evolve beyond wars of man.
Happy Veteran’s Day