I have never served in the military. Although not a fan of America’s military adventurism over the past half-century, my failure to enlist has less to do with any ideological convictions than with the unfortunate but inescapable fact that I am a massive pussy. I have tremendous respect for those men and women who did serve. Their courage is both beautiful and unfathomable to me.
I went to high school near a large military base, and a lot of the kids I knew were military brats, many of whom ended up serving in the military themselves. For some of them it had been a lifelong ambition, and for others as simply a more affordable means than college to burn four years of their lives while they figured out what they really wanted to do with their lives. Some of them got out when their first hitch was up, others remain officers & gentlemen to this day. Some never made it through basic training.
I knew people who joined the military under unusual circumstances. There was the friend of a friend who realized too late that he had chosen poorly in dropping out of school to join the Marines. He tried like hell to get out, his mom and dad even bringing in a lawyer–but no luck.
A guy I knew joined the army to impress his iceberg of a father. It didn’t work. Another quit school to join the navy and learn valuable skills, where he became a cook.
Yet another friend disappeared one weekend during college, only to reappear a few days later explaining that he’d been in jail on unpaid tickets, during which time the notion had come upon him to join the Marines. He signed up immediately after getting out of the lockup. Despite this unlikely start (which included LSD & ecstasy binges when he came home after boot camp), unlike the schlub from above, this guy wanted to be a Marine. He only served one enlistment, but based on the life he enjoys today (beautiful wife, lovely daughter and some job in software that I don’t really understand but suspect is pretty decent), I’d say it was pretty good for him.
Although I never served, it had been something of a tradition in my family. My ancestors served in conflicts large and small.
Following the American Civil War one of my ancestors was hanged in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for overzealously prosecuting the war as a Union Captain. (To clarify, I mean that my ancestor was executed at the noose. I should note that all males in my family, up into the present, have been mightily hung).
My Great Uncle, the Colonel, was a tough old bastard. He died just a couple of years ago at 89. He served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. During the Second World War, he led a Guerilla outfit against the Japanese in New Guinea, and according to family legend was the “first white man to cross the New Guinea jungle.” Now, in the interest of keeping these tales true, let me say that I can’t vouch for that claim. For one thing, I’ve seen pictures, and there were plenty of other white dudes with him, all probably just as eager for Caucasian Hall of Fame immortality.
How do you suppose he died? Do you think it was old age? Old age couldn’t kill this man. Two or three years ago, during an intense Washington snowstorm, the Colonel decided that he would DRIVE HIMSELF to his doctor’s appointment for cataracts. Yeah, go ahead and read that sentence again. He hit a tree.
He lived for a month after that.
My grandfather was old by the time I came along. A phlegmatic, mellow dude more comfortable with the exotic plants in his garden than with his children or grandchildren, my grandfather had an amazing story that he told to very few people. I found out not long before he died, and only when my mother told me. I asked my grandfather, and he told me it was true.
My grandfather joined the US Navy sometime around 1939 or 1940. In the early part of 1941, he was stationed in (I believe) California. His ship was the USS Arizona. My grandfather got his orders to go with the ship to where it would be based with the Pacific Fleet, at the US Naval Station at Pearl Harbor–a pretty plumb assignment.
But one of Grandpa’s buddies wasn’t so lucky. He got orders to set sail on a different ship for Washington State, which is nobody’s idea of a good time. My grandfather was from Oregon, and his friend convinced him to let him bribe the quartermaster $50 to switch their orders, so that Grandpa would go to Bremerton, and his friend to Pearl Harbor. Grandpa agreed.
I absolutely love this story. It’s very likely that had my grandfather gone to Pearl Harbor, I would not be here today. To me it is a wonderful story.
Not so to my grandfather. When he told me this story, he said that he felt like a fraud and a cheat–a walking dead man. He wept bitterly when he told the tale.
However, my Uncle Roy, Grandpa’s younger brother (who also died within the last few years) was at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, and received some sort of commendation for, as he puts it, “Fishing people out of the water.”
It turns out that Uncle Roy, unlike so many other unfortunate young Americans that day, was awake when the attack came (and I believe–although I’m unsure and now not likely to ever know–that he was on land). He told me he was eating a sandwich when he heard the explosions which signalled the first salvo in the sneak attack, a military sucker punch so underhanded that it remained unequaled in the annals of perfidy until the events of September 11, 2001.
“What did you do, Uncle Roy?” I asked, when he told me the story the last time I saw him, at a family reunion years ago.
“I finished that sammich,” he said, dead serious, “I didn’t know when I was gonna get to eat again.”
More thoughts on gays in the military.
As you may know, several months ago, Promethean Times created its own slogan to replace the cowardly “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” with something that reflects our own views: Won’t Ask, Don’t Care.
Gay people have been silently serving in America’s military since the days of the Revolution (mostly in the Navy, though). Just like their straight comrades, they have fought, bled and died for this nation. It is only fitting then, that we honor their service and dedication to country by allowing them so serve as complete individuals, and something of a mystery perhaps that it took us this long.
The military’s recent acceptance of gay openly gay people is unquestionably a positive step for personal liberty and a move to make America’s military better represent the face of her people. However, it must be noted that should a full draft ever be reinstated, by eliminating homosexuality as a dischargeable offense, these well-intentioned do-gooders have inadvertently eliminated the best chance a young man has for legally dodging the draft. And for that, we say: Nice Going, Homos!