This last weekend in May brings Memorial Day in honor of all those who served in the Military to defend our freedom and our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In my research of ancestors I’ve found many draft registration cards and listings of military assignments. I have found relatives who served in the War for Independence, the Civil War, WW1 and WW11, and Korea, Viet Nam and Desert Storm.
I think all of these men, and one woman, survived the wars but were damaged in many ways for life. I think of my uncle Lester who enlisted in the Army at 17 and went off to fight in the bloody battles of Korea. The sights and sounds of battle never left him. He and my uncle Tom, who landed on the bloody beach of Normandy, probably had PTSD although we had no name for it then. Grandpa Carl Quist enlisted in his early 40’s with several children still at home. He was too old for active service so was assigned to ship repair in San Diego. It probably meant a steady paycheck for him but, like every other service man, he pledged his life to defend the Constitution of the USA. Anyone who does that is a hero in my mind.
My step-dad, Harry, enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 along with a buddy from high school. They were off on an adventure! The war came to an end a couple of years later and he never left the U.S. He always said he really wasn’t a veteran because he never went to war. I assured him that because he signed his life away to protect our country he was surely a veteran. He would have gone off to war when his turn came.
My husband, Jim, was draft age when he graduated from college, between Korea and Viet Nam. He was a chemical engineer working in a “critical industry.” He enlisted in the active reserve program for critical workers, serving 6 months active duty, where he became a sharp shooter, and then 8 years of reserve duty. He never claimed any veteran benefits or recognition but he, too, signed his life away and would have answered the call.
For those of us who did not answer the call, sign on the dotted line, or march off to battle, a visit to a National Cemetery will bring home the impact of war and the sacrifice so many have made. “In Flanders Field the poppies grow beneath the crosses row on row that mark their place.” Hundreds of thousands of white crosses and headstones, in straight lines covering acre after acre, leave an image in the mind that is unforgettable. Today we pause to honor those who served and still serve to protect our freedom.