Monday, May 31, 2010

The day I turned 18 years old, I went to the Post Office to register for the draft that was no longer in force. My father somehow knew where I had been. He asked, "Where were you?"

"Signing up," I said.
"You're a putz!" he responded.

Now you should know that calling me a putz was far from the worst I ever heard from my father, but his sense of disgust was evident, and I knew the intended effect, and I felt it just as fiercely as he expected.

"I would be a horrible soldier," I said. "But I couldn't live with myself if I were reduced to being a coward," I said. "So I did what I needed to do."

The year was 1979, and the Vietnam war was officially over. I had no reason to believe that my name would ever be called, but I also had no way to avoid the enormity of a personal decision. If the situation arose where I would need to serve my country, I would do so without reservation, but with a grave concern that they would throw me out in about thirty seconds. I had spent the better part of my 18 years up until that point being rebellious wherever I could. Following rules and directions, especially blindly, was anathema to my make-up and disposition.

So thirty years have passed. I think I may have been wrong. While I still believe I would have had trouble fulfilling the clear sense of loyalty that is a significant part of the soldier's sense of self, I now think I would have found a way to do my duty.

So who cares? In retrospect? The most recent post on this blog - from a young punk 22 year old - reinforced some of the most crucial values I hold. I went to the Post Office on my 18th birthday partly because of ego. I couldn't live with the notion of being seen as cowardly, even though I was. What I didn't tell my father was that I had another drive that influenced my decision to sign on. I was fully capable of serving my country in some capacity. I felt that my decision to do so was a way for me to symbolically say that I loved my family and my country. I thought that I owed the parade of martyrs in American military history a simple validation of their sacrifices. My signing up, even with the knowledge that I would not be called, was a way for me to say, " I have your back. I may lack the courage, and the honor, and the integrity that you have shown. But I do not lack appreciation, and respect, and awe for your sacrifice."

I thank Buddy boy for saying some good things. I honestly don't agree with all of them, but the important ones make me proud.

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