The flags along our street stand at “Parade Rest” on this overcast Veteran’s Day. A colorful, but mute, sign of respect, of acknowledgment to those who have (or are currently serving) served in the armed forces.
I was sitting in one of the old canvas folding chairs in our garage, having a smoke looking out toward the street, lost in thought about the day … when an old familiar presence made itself known.
“Attention on Deck!!”
I jumped to my feet. Even after being away from life in a uniform for over thirteen years, old reflexes and old habits die slowly if at all. With a chuckle, the mental metaphysical prankster, said “At Ease sailor”. I sat down in the chair, ears a bit red, and smiled.
“Well THAT was a hell of an entrance! Hello dad, wasn’t expecting you to pop in today, what’s up?”
Dad, comfortable in his favorite chair, cigar in one hand, scotch in the other, smiled again; “I need a reason to see my sons? Thought I would drop by and see how you were doing, and today seemed like the perfect day for it.”
“Well, it’s good to “see” you too, Just sitting here reflecting on the day, and on how much things have changed since I entered in the service …”
“And on what my grandson is experiencing right now in Boot Camp up at Great Lakes?”, Dad said, finishing my thought.
“Yeah. Just got a letter from Pat, day before yesterday, trying to figure out what to write back about.”
“Well, I am sure anything you put down on paper will be well received. You must still remember what it felt like to get mail from friends and family while in Boot Camp. It didn’t really matter what was written, what really mattered was the time was taken to send something. Matter of fact, that was much the same feeling we had, back when I did my time with the Air Force. I imagine your uncles felt the same way too back durring their days as recruits in the Marines and Army.”
Dad paused, took a puff on the cigar, followed by a sip of scotch; “You know your mother and I were very proud of you, despite your mom’s concerns about service life. How do you feel about Pat joining?”
“I have told him I am proud of him. But it is more then just a parental pride, more then the pride of having a son follow in choosing the same branch of service I did. And this may take some time, because it didn’t really sink in with me, until I had done it a couple of times over and above the first enlistment … but a pride in knowing, and I can only assume Pat will develop this, if he in fact re-enlists at some point down the road, what the oath of enlistment is really demanding of you.”
“What are you driving at son?”, I could see my dads brows furled a bit
It is what separates the military member from the civilian. with the possible exception of those who are police or firemen. The oath.
I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
“You are literally giving up your individual freedoms, suborning yourself to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, vice the very contract between a peoples and their government, the Constitution, in order to protect and defend it. You are placing yourself in to a group which pledges to, if it comes to it, give ‘that last full measure of devotion’ in order to honor the oath you took. The only other group of individuals who come to mind in taking any sort of oath which may come close to rivaling that are police, and firemen”
“Oh sure, Pat is probably not going to be in any direct line of fire, especially in the career path he has chosen, but the chance however remote, is there. And he has sworn an oath to do what ever needs to be done to ‘protect and defend’, should it come to that. It is this intentionally honored commitment toward something greater than self which separates Patrick, his fellow service members of all stripes, and even all the veterans out there, from the civilian population at large.”
Dad looked up from his glass. “So you’re saying you hope, if Pat hasn’t done so already, that he will understand the gravity of the oath he has taken, that it is not something in effect from “nine to five”, but an obligation, freely taken, which stays with you perhaps even past the end of an enlistment or future retirement? That the measure of pride you have in him, is as much pride of one member of the service “fraternity” toward another, as it is from a father to a son.”
“Sheesh, I take a couple of paragraphs, and you nail it in a couple of sentences! Thanks Dad.”
“Even though I was only in for a couple of years, I have that same sense of pride toward both you and my grandson. Thank you both for carrying the torch.”
“I wonder if there will be a fourth generation member in the family, who will wear the uniform someday?”
Dad got a wistful look in his eye, and considering his ectoplasmic state, a tad transparent … “Damn son, you have to warn me when you say things like that! If I get to thinking about ‘the other side’ and what the future might have in store for you or the grandkids, I tend to get sucked right back up outta the here and now. Can’t really be in two places at once, that’s waaaay beyond my paygrade. Even if I knew the answer to that, and not saying that I do, I would not be surprised at all, in seeing more uniforms on future family members. But I am not going to say anything more then that.”
My father, my mental specter, gathered himself together. His cigar, now noticeably shorter, his glass closer to empty than full, stood up from his ectoplasmic easy chair.
“Son, time for me to head out. Give my best to everyone, and give all the grandsons a hug from me the next time you see them. I expect we will have another Petty Officer in the family with in the next couple of years, if his training goes smoothly enough?”
It was my turn to chuckle. “Yeah that is a very real possibility. Chances are he will be advancing at a much faster rate than his old man ever did. He has the smarts, and the common sense. I would be willing to bet if he stays in for a couple of enlistments, he will make Chief Petty Officer in record time as well, maybe even go “mustang”. But that will be his choices and his opportunities to make of what he will.”
Dad smiled. “I have faith in Pat, and in all the men and women who accept and wear, or have worn, the mantle of guardian/warrior. And in case I haven’t said so, thanks for your service son. And be sure to thank Patrick for me.”
Before I could respond, as quickly as he had popped in, he was gone. There was the faint but noticeable oder of cigar smoke in the garage. It had been awhile, but it was good to hear from Dad again. Though he had served a few short years, his status as a vet was every bit as honorable and legitimate as my “career”, and his grandsons first active duty steps toward same. It felt good to be reminded of that, to know there are vets out there who did not see action, but did their duty with honor and to the best of their ability.
To all who served or or still serving, for all who have “taken the oath” , especially on this day of remembrance, you are not forgotten.