My Veteran's Day Apology

I don’t remember who said it. I wish I did because I owe them a big apology. I think it was one of my high school teachers. But someone, when I was young and naive, suggested to me “You should think about applying to one of the military academies.” I couldn’t have been more horrified if they told me to become a stripper. Or a crack dealer. So deep was my loathing of the military, I considered this suggestion an insult. I have no excuses. I was young and naive. Most of my teachers were liberals. I didn’t know anyone in the military.

It’s not like I didn’t know any veterans. Every living male in my family was a veteran. My father and uncles all served in World War II. But they never talked about it. I think that’s typical of men from that era. They did their service then they came home and lived their lives. They didn’t brag about their heroics. They didn’t bore their kids with long tales about “when I was in the service….”

Or maybe that was just my dad. I knew he’d served in the Navy. He saved the coins he brought back from the Phillipines. He used to tease me that I spent money like a drunken sailor on leave and I would shoot back “Well, you would know!” Once he told me about riding the train to San Francisco before being shipped out to sea. They warned him not to open the train windows, but didn’t tell him why. He ignored them, and at night as the train went through tunnels, the smoke would come in through his open window. He woke up covered in black soot that he couldn’t wash off until he reached his destination. That’s all I know. I don’t know if he had old Navy buddies. I don’t know what he did, where all he went, what he saw. I don’t know because it never occured to me to ask. I was a snotty know-it-all as a teenager. It never even occured to me to ask. But he died when I was only 20, before I matured enough to realize how important his service was. Now I would give anything to be able to sit down with him and ask, but it’s too late. I have his discharge papers from the Navy, but I know so little about it I don’t know what they mean. And anyone who knew him then is also gone.

My mother later told me that my father didn’t take his studies seriously, so his father pulled him out of school and marched him down to the recruiting office and enlisted him in the Navy. He was 16. World War II was peaking. That totally astounds me. Can you imagine a parent doing that now? When I was a child, young men were burning their draft cards and leaving for Canada. Now I read letters to the advice column letters from liberal mothers who can’t imagine why their sons want to enlist in the military when they don’t have to. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they’re more worried about their sons or explaining it to their friends.

So, I apologize. To my dad, for not taking an interest in his service. To my teacher for whatever snide remark I made about the military academy. And to each one of you who served our nation. I still don’t think I would have been good in the military. I wasn’t disciplined enough and I’m still not good at taking orders. But I thank God every day for those of you who were. Thank you for your service.

And I’m sorry it took me so many years to appreciate your sacrifice.