Sunday, May 28, 2006

A reprieve and some memories

It's the Memorial Day weekend. Better writers than I will be posting their thoughts and feelings on the signifigance of the day.

In the recruiting world it means I have a three day weekend. It's a weekend that is bittersweet though. A young man walked into the office late on a Wednesday night. If I'd done what most everyone else does I wouldn't have been in the office, I'd have been home. But I was in the office with SGT Curtain and this man walks in and asks to speak with someone about the Reserves. I'd been at a golf tourny that day (it was work-related, one of our high schools have an end-of-year tourny for the teachers and the JROTC NCOIC invited the Army to attend) and was still in my shorts and polo. I was busy making some corrections to my 09L applicant's record, but I'm never too busy to talk to a walk-in.

We make some small talk, he's the assistant manager at one of the many lube shops in the area, and he just got his GED last month. He was tired of not doing much with his life, wants to get his certification from UTI, and his brother is in the Reserves in Indiana and always told him how much he liked it. This man, Mr. Lube for lack of a more creative pseudonym, had done some research online, saw we had a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic job, and wants to do that. His days off are Monday and Wednesday.

This is where the bittersweet comes in.

This Wednesday he's going to his grandfather's ranch to help them prepare for a rodeo this weekend. Monday he'd be free, and on Monday we can do a full process, test, phys, enlist. Monday is a holiday. I'm thrilled to have the day off, but at the same time if it was a work day, well, I could have a contract. And there is a value to a contract, even a GED. Oh well.

Memories from my childhood are fuzzy. A lot of time has passed, a lot of things have happened, and I'm not sure what is what. My father was a Marine in Vietnam. He was an artilleryman. He was a lucky one in that he came home in decent shape, physically and mentally. He died at about the same time in my life when I'd have become curious about what he did in the war so I never got the chance to ask. I know he shared a good bit with his brothers, my uncles, but I've never gotten up the courage to ask them about it. However, I do remember him spending a lot of time with his fellow veterans. Some of them men who hadn't been as lucky and came home with the sort of scars no one sees.

I remember one of them in particular. I can sing the Mr. Ed theme song, but I cannot remember this man's name. He was about six feet tall, always had a scruffy beard, wore frayed blue jeans, aviator sunglasses, and sometimes wore an OD green field jacket. He drove a truck with a large camper, and I remember thinking how cool it must have been to be able to live out of your truck. It would be like camping every day and that sort of thing is neat to a 10 year old. Or, well, it was neat to a 10 year old before the introduction of the NES.

This man and my dad would usually go out and sometimes they'd bring me with them. We once went to this mom and pop pizza place a couple towns over where I had my first thin crust pizza. I didn't like it much because it was too hot and is was weird not having a crust to hold on to. I also remember a time when he, my father, and I were driving down the mountain from our house to town and he drove the truck into the center median to knock over some road cones that had been set up because of some construction.

I'm telling this story because, well, I've forgotten. I don't know what became of this man. My family moved to Texas, my father died, and the stories have been lost. I don't know what ever became of the scruffy vet living in a camper. I do know he'd go to the VA hospital and spent a lot of time at the local VFW. He was rarely without a beer and I remember having to kick a can from my feet when we drove down that mountain. It's a memory made fuzzy by the passage of time and an incomplete history. I'm not even sure how much of it is something I remember and how much is just something I thought up to fill in some blanks. I like to think of my father as someone who would try and help those he served with who weren't as lucky.

I've been to The Wall once. I can't even recall the reason, but it had to have been for a holiday. Memorial Day or Veteran's Day. Probably Memorial Day because it was warm and sunny in DC. My father, mother, sister, and I all joined a group of the veterans from the VFW (probably) for a bus ride to the capital. It was a good time. Beer for the adults, soda for the kids, lots of people talking, laughing, and reminising. We get to the capital and mom, sis, and I go for the tour. Lincoln Memorail, Washinton Monument, and all the other sights of the Mall. We join my father and make a trip to The Wall.

It was huge and beautiful. A line of sheer black with the names of the lost etched forever. It dwarfed my father who simply walked slowly, looking for those who didn't come back. I remember him placing his hand on the wall and hanging his head. I didn't really stay close. I was a child and the enormity of what I was looking at was lost on me. We were there for a while before the call of food beckoned us back to the camp we'd established at a park. Night fell and everyone went back to the wall for a candlelight vigil. Candles with cups were passed out, men in partial uniforms with their patches and walked through the crowd. Men hugged, cried, and shared the memories of those lost so they wouldn't be forgotten. There were speakers. More tears, and a late bus ride home. A bus ride I best remember because of a drunken (I wasn't the drunken one) dare for me to pinch the butt of one of the girlfriends of the people we rode with. The things a mind can retain.

The number of men who fought for our country is dwindling. The veterans from WWI are so few as to be listed by name on Wikipedia. Over 3 million veterans of WWII and Korea remain, as do 8 million Vietnam Veterans, and 3 million Gulf War veterans. With Americans again fighting and dying so those who don't don't have to, this Memorial Day is a time, as all those before, to remember those who never made it home. The death of a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine is a loss to all who loved them. Their family, friends, and those who served with them, and were there when they passed, and the country as a whole are made poorer by the loss of the men who's names are carved into small memorials across Europe, placed on a field of crosses on the coast of France by the English Channel, who are represented by line of metal men in ponchos, and by the long, black wall. Some day those who fought and died in the sands of Kuwait and Iraq will be added to the tourist trek in DC. Until that day though the minds of those who knew them must represent the memorial.

Tomorrow, Monday, will be the day most will have to make those personal moments of rememberance. Many won't. Many will take advantage of the day off to get work done around the house. To enjoy time spent away from the grind and with friends and family Some won't get the time off because the store has to remain open. Some will go to that bronze marker and leave a flag and flowers. Me? Mrs. SFC B and I will be making a trip to Tombstone to do the mandatory Arizona tourist thing. But I do ask that sometime tomorrow take the time. Find a charity to give a couple bucks to. Call that uncle who was a MP just to say "hello" and let him know you thought of him. In a world where only 1 in 150 is currently serving the threat to be forgotten is too present. Little things do count.

Anyways, enough of my drivel. Hope everyone has had a great weekend and that it continues tomorrow as well.


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