Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day

This weekend is the annual time of year we ostensibly pay respect to our armed services, our men and women in uniform over the years. It's a just holiday, as far as I'm concerned. Memorial Day is the least, I feel, we can do to say thank you to the sometimes extraordinary sacrifices made by our military branch.

I myself was never in the military. I was too far too young for Vietnam and even though I remember registering for the draft when I turned 18, it had long ceased to be actualized. It was more of a formality by then.

No, I was one of those guys who grew up in a time of no major military action on the part of this country, Grenada aside. And that was more of a global joke than anything else. To this day I'm not entirely certain what that little piece of armed flexing was about.

However, having said that, I do remember being chased around a bit when I was pursuing an English Degree at M.U. For whatever reason, the Navy was under the misguided impression I might be useful in the 'Navy Intelligence' branch of the service and I recieved several telephone calls, letter, etc. to that end. And in fact once, incredulously, and I swear this is true, two Navy recruitment guys actually followed me into a Pizza Hut once to talk to me about enlistment. It was a short conversation but they made it clear they'd had their eye on me and quickly outlined a life of high adventure as a Navy Intelligence Ensign with my choice of exotic, worldwide ports in which to be stationed. The truth is I sincerely thought about it for about five minutes before discarding the idea. In hindsight, and purely hypothetically, it might not have been a bad idea. It would have been a good 25 years or so of military service without actual combat, not counting the elder Bush's truncated invasion of Iraq in the early nineties.

But in all honesty, even taking into account the lack of military engagement, I think it would have been disasterous. For one thing I have a lifetime distaste for anything even remotely resembling an authority figure. And I'm guessing that's probably not a good thing in the military.

In additon I think I may have turned out to be a coward. Of course, it's difficult to predict, but I specifically remember two incidents over the years in which I asked myself in all honesty if I could have participated. The first was when I read the book 'Black Hawk Down.' I just don't think I could have done what those doomed rangers did. I suspect I might have simply curled up in a fetal position and hid. Maybe not, courage under fire is an odd thing. The other was the first twenty minutes of the film 'Saving Private Ryan.' Watching those guys wade ashore, taking fire, many not making it more than a few steps, and more, KNOWING they weren't going to make it more than a few steps, well, again, I'm just not sure I could have done that.

I remember one of the recruitment guys telling me, 'as an officer in Navy Intelligence you'll never see actual combat, son.' Well, be that as it may, I still don't think I would have made a very good Navy guy. Although, I must admit, I've always liked boats.

In addition, to my knowledge, the Navy doesn't have a very good drama department. Annapolis is not terribly noted for their liberal arts program. So that may have been a problem.

Also, I really don't see how I could have contributed. It's not as though I had a firm grasp of language skills or was bilingual or anything of that sort. And I certainly had no recognizable skills in Black Ops (although I might have been good at spreading nasty rumors about this or that world leader). No, I just don't think I had the 'right stuff.'

My dad was a Sargeant Major in the army, the reserves eventually. But as far as I could tell that was simply an outlet to drink. To him, it seemed to me, being in the reserves only meant he had more people to slam down cheap bourbon with. His weekends wargaming with the local national guard usually meant a weekend at the VFW drinking PBR and shots of Jim Beam with other likeminded drinkers. And although there may be something to be said for that, it really wasn't high on my bucket list.

Also, as I got older and began to make informed decisions about my thoughts toward Vietnam, realizing what a shameful national experience that was, I'm not sure I would have been appreciated in Navy Intelligence, which seemed a classic oxymoron to me finally.

Nonetheless, I celebrate and tip my hat to the armed services this Memorial Day weekend. The concept of duty to one's country first, foremost and above everything else, is heroic, certainly. I'm just not sure I personally, ever had the cojones to believe so resolutely in it. I feel in kinship with a character in one of Lanford Wilson's plays in which he says, "I don't think he loved our country. I think he loved our countryside."

I had two high school buddies, weekend drinking partners, that ended up joining The Coast Guard after graduation. They both quit within a year because, well, in their words, it was 'too hard.' I probably would have been the same kind of soldier. 'Um, excuse me, I think maybe this has all been a mistake, sir. I've come to believe this whole soldier thing is, well, too hard.'

However, in my defense, I later became a waiter in a chain restaurant in New York City and was pretty good at that. We didn't have to salute anyone but otherwise it was pretty close to being an expendable bag of human bones and innards and we, too, were treated as mindless cattle. On the other hand, we got to keep our tips.


So, Angie and I are heading out to be with friends on beautiful Manhattan Beach today. We'll have a great BBQ rib dinner, some stimulating conversation and maybe sing some showtunes by the fire pit. The Navy brochures I used to get as an undergrad hardly ever showed people doing that.

See you tomorrow.

No comments: