Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day 2007

A mere 37 years ago this month I completed advanced individual training as a light weapons infantryman and was christened with the military occupational specialty 11B20–Eleven Bravo for short. Along with that title, I was handed orders to report to the Oakland Army Terminal for shipment to Vietnam. This was the future I had dreaded all through college, a future that I hoped luck and my bachelors degree would help me dodge. Instead, I walked right into that maelstrom with all the naivete’ of a child. Fourteen months later, I returned, happy to still be alive and wondering who I really was.

My exposure to combat was brief and pretty uneventful. The luck I had counted on to keep me safe did in fact come through for me. Not in the way I hoped but well enough. I saw combat, no doubt about that, but it was hardly the stuff of novels and movies, just the boredom of mindless effort and the ever present tension that comes with knowing that others have every reason and intention of killing me. There’s no good reason I survived when so many others did not. Sheer luck and sheer chance, that’s all. It sure wasn’t my skill as an infantryman.

November always brings these thoughts back to me. Veterans Day is a day of remembrance of something I cannot forget and reminds me that I share this experience with 2.5 million men of my generation and so many others of generations past and, unfortunately, the present. Then comes Thanksgiving and memories of that all too strange hiatus between infantry training and reporting to Oakland, a time when I was in with friends and family yet so apart from them. They were getting on with their lives, mine was on hold with highly uncertain prospects. People didn’t quite know how to act toward me. Neither I nor others wanted to acknowledge the fact that we might never see each other again even as it hung so largely between us. It was a time of uncertainty that will forever be part of the holiday season for me.

More than the actual combat this uncertainty is the experience I share with my fellow veterans. Even the gung-ho types must know that they will be at risk. They offset their doubts with the expectation that their enthusiasm and skill with keep them safe but they must also know that death is waiting for them and that all their efforts will not save them if their number comes up. At least that’s my perception. For me there was no enthusiasm, no confidence in my skill. The booby trap training alone convinced me that I would never survive; I set off so many of the dummy traps the drill sergeants rigged up that I figured I wouldn’t have a chance.

But I went anyway, submitting to the demand of my government that I kill on its behalf. Maybe deep down I knew I would luck out. Or maybe I was just numb and resigned to fate, whatever it may bring. I am forever grateful that I was spared even as I recognize that I no more deserved my good luck than any of the dead and maimed deserved their ill fortune.

For whatever it’s worth I am a veteran. I’ve been to the end of the pipeline where the shit flows and managed to return. I will never forget the experience nor the many others who served before and after me. And I will forever speak out as a veteran against the folly of war. My fervent wish ever since my own service is that no one ever again go to war, as I did, for a lie.

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Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

veteran's day at el rancho harpo

glad you made it home troop. proud to know you.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy veteran's day Mark. 41 years ago I took a pre-induction physical even though in college with no danger of flunking out. They classified me 1-Y because of my knee problem so I "escaped" military service. At the time it meant I could focus on starting a career upon graduation.

I have mixed emotions. I suffered almost 40 years of arthritis until knee replacement. On the other hand I could be laying in a grave with perfectly good knees. Back then my biggest worry was winding up in the miltary a college graduate private under some high school sargent who resented me. I suppose it would be diffrent if I went to Vietnam--then like you simply coming home alive and well would have been the focus.

Bottom line is I'm just glad to be posting a comment in 2007.

7:43 PM  

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