Eleventh Day, Eleventh Month
On the landing of the front staircase in my Grandfather's house hung a thickly varnished dark oak case, displaying behind the wavy glass, ribbons, medals and medallions from military campaigns and service throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. I'd extract them, and turn them over in my hand, scrutinizing the bronze faces and reading with my small pink fingers the Braille of raised letters describing Great Deeds and Sacrifices . I'd open and close finely worked clasps and pin backs and stroke the soft fuzz of fraying silk and run my nail tips along the hard gold threads of stitched leaves and striped bars. I'd make arrangement of them on the worn Turkish runner, carefully positioning them within the geometric dull madder, ochre and indigo patterns. Sometimes, I'd pin one or two to my narrow chest and descend to the speckled silver looking glass in the front parlor below, and look at the reflection of them pulling down the yarns of the imagined uniform of my sweater. They just didn't seem to fit.
Military service is an integral part of the culture of my Father's family. Every generation is well represented in the armed forces, Army and Coast Guard mostly. My father was in ROTC when he fucked both "the man" , and Grandpa's expectations, by dropping out of college in the 60's ( a quickly produced brood kept him out of Vietnam) He was an anomaly, in that and so many other things. Both of my brothers served. Grandpa patrolled Long Island Sound seeking periscopes and signs of espionage during WW II, and Great Grand Dad was a military guard in the mirrored hall at Versailles, witnessing the Armistice, and twenty seven years later stood at Mac Arthur's side as he penned the end to hostilities with Imperial Japan. Men in uniform continue all the way back through the geneology.
Smitten early with the IDEA of military life, I begged and pleaded with my parents to let me join the Cub Scouts. They were skeptical, but finally, grudgingly gave in. They spent heavily on dues and kit; my crisp blue uniform, with jaunty cap and bright yellow kerchief, a pen knife and canteen emblazoned with The Official Seal of The Cub Scouts of America, and the literature which would guide my progress up through the ranks to Eagle Scout. But I found the regimentation oppressive; I already spent hours every week wandering freely in the woods and swamps, so didn't need augmentations of death march hikes, and the meetings interfered with my miniature furniture making and comic strip drawing. So after a few months, as they had surely expected, I dropped out; an early confirmation of their low expectations. I still have the kerchief.
Years later, adrift in the unrestricted, boundary free upbringing of permissive Yankee liberalism (a pendulum swing away from the strictness of both my parents upbringings) On the bed in my room, I'd looked in the photo albums at sepia and black and white photos of my antecedent kin, in the even MORE impressive uniforms of Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel; stern high cheek boned faces, buzzed heads beneath peaked caps, panoramic views of marching formations, team pictures in tight laced pants on The Football Field of Honor. I decided I needed this kind of order, structure, and, uh, discipline in my life. Or perhaps, at the early stages of puberty, even then longed subconsciously for nights in the barracks after lights out, or the hygienic efficiency of group showers. I descended that set of stairs and approached Dad in the living room where he sat after dinner, in his hard maple rocking chair behind the curtain of the evening paper.
I chirped, cleared my throat and gained a slightly lower octave, and I hoped a more reasoned voice to add weight to my proposal;
" I think you should consider sending me to A Military Academy. I need order, structure, and, um, discipline in my life."
He didn't answer for a long moment, then let the paper drop at the fold. He inspected me, his eyes evaluating and skeptical above the top of horn rimmed eyeglasses and below elevated brows. He sighed.
"You wouldn't last a week."
He stated it flatly, and snapped the newsprint barrier back up to continued his reading in peace. I went back upstairs, flopped on the bamboo printed coverlet (selected because I thought it created a tropical mood in conjunction with the grass cloth mat and wicker peacock chair I'd bought with paper route money) and put "Bronski Beat " on the turntable.
So, though MY military career never got off the ground, I feel fortunate that there are other men and women who've managed to to pull it off. I hope that soon I will be able to thank them for acting bravely in their traditional role of protecting our great (if sometimes flawed) nation and it's people, from actual threats. In spite of the current grossly misguided deployments, I do appreciate their efforts, as much as I bemoan their waste and futilty. I simply hope that as many as possible survive untill the current maddness can be brought to an end. Thank you for your service.
To Veterans of all branches, thank you too.
Since you're no longer on active duty, I ask each of you, (that is, if you still have it)
Can I borrow your hat?