I joined the Army when I was 17 years old. I was still in high school with two weeks left until graduation. A school pal of mine started me thinking about enlisting. He found out if we joined together we could enter on the “buddy system,” which would have guaranteed we would serve together for our full enlistment. We also knew at our age and with our good health, it would be just a matter of a few months until we had to register for the draft. We were told by the recruiters, draftees didn’t have a choice of jobs or area of the world where they would serve. Well, we bought it. It turns out our “buddy system” guarantee lasted only through basic training of eight weeks and then we were shipped out thousands of miles apart. I guess the Army wasn’t required to adhere to “truth in advertising” policies. Oh well, it was too late now.
I wasn’t particularly patriotic back then. I was proud to serve. I believe it was important to do my part. Most of my friends and acquaintances also served. Besides it was an opportunity to see the world. I was living in a tiny country town in east Tennessee and I had limited prospects. Here was a chance for adventure and growth. There were no hot wars going on so I thought I would be safe.
I was a good soldier. I learned things I never would have had the opportunity to learn any other way. I became proficient with the rifle and other weapons. I was a radio/teletype operator and quite enjoyed my time in the Army. I managed to serve for three years without any hot wars breaking out and was glad of that. There were events that could have turned badly but thankfully cooler heads prevailed and we stayed out of any war. The reality was at any moment things could have gotten hot but we were ready to fight and die if necessary for our country. Nobody wanted that, but we were ready. The Army made sure of that.
Today, at age 75, I look back. I know for a fact I got so much more than I ever gave to my country. Almost every day someone thanks me for my service. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by the thought, but I appreciate it none the less. I was a kid looking for adventure. I saw my “buddy system” friend only once during our enlistments in Germany. He and I were there for a school. We had a few moments together and then we went our separate ways. We both had our adventure.
Now with all that behind me, I reflect on the past. I was saddened by the reception our Vietnam veterans experienced when they returned from that war. Like they had a choice of where to serve. I am heartened, though, by our apparent change of attitude concerning those returning from the Middle East. Maybe we, as a country, have grown up. I hope so. I am also disappointed by the fact so few people serve in the military today. Few of our elected leaders have served and fewer yet understand what it even means. Perhaps if they did, our world would be better off. I know they would be better leaders.
Nov. 11 we celebrate our veterans with a day of remembrance. Thank a veteran if you see one. Pray for our troops and know this: Freedom is not free. Thank God you live in the “Land of the Free.”