Back in the day, when many of us were wearing bell bottoms and granny glasses … when Vietnam was a roiling mess and many of us thought that we knew quite a bit more than we may think we know now … Veteran’s Day was not something that gave me pause. Not at all – except maybe as more reason to be mad at the government, Nixon, and all the folks who were screwing up the world.
And now I think how sad for me! Can’t go back, but I’d have so many questions for him now, were he alive. I wonder about what it was like to decide, as a 19-year-old college freshman, to enlist in the army. I wonder about what it was like to ride a train to boot camp, then head overseas … what did he think about in the quiet moments?
We were raised to think that Dad was uninteresting at best. So anything that he touched or that related to him took on a that cast. My perspective was shaped by my Mother’s perspective … and it’s taken years to slowly remove that filter from my eyes and look around with more clarity.
So anyway, because of its association with Dad, Veteran’s Day is definitely an olive drab holiday in my ken … would be so even if the colors weren’t absolutely appropriate for the day.
But what does it mean to me now? Well, the word duty comes to mind … a word I’ve thought terribly uninteresting for at least 5 decades … but am coming to appreciate more and more. Is it personal growth, accrued wisdom, or simply the piling of the years that has made me see it differently? (Like to think it’s the former … but not so sure it isn’t merely the latter.)
Anyway … Dad did what was necessary. He did what he thought he ought to do. He did his best. I see that now. He made everything possible, quietly, while Mom railed and complained and mourned the losses of what-might-have-been. Flamboyant, mercurial, hurtful, dramatic … she was everything that Dad was not … and oh-my-goodness did she denigrate him!
So, from the vantage point of my family, Veteran’s Day, like Dad, never had a chance. And while I cannot ever celebrate war or honor the men in suits who use the men in uniform as pawns … I do celebrate the people like my father who, as young men and women, do what they think is right.
Perhaps I wish that they would have developed a more nuanced and critical view of the world and its events, and would have found other ways to ‘do what’s right.’ But as I think about my father today, I feel great tenderness and respect for the 19-year-old who put down his books and his football pads and did what he believed he should.