Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans' Day, Daddy

Today is Veterans' Day. In the past, I've devoted posts largely to my mother's older brother and her nephew, Marines who served in two different, but extremely bloody, theaters of war in Asia. My uncle was at Guadalcanal; his son was enlisted for two tours in Vietnam, and served well past the first Gulf War after becoming a much-decorated pilot of the EA-6B Prowler. One of my proudest moments in high school was when "Gee" personally bombed Libya. It was kind of a big deal.

My father, though, is somewhat unique in that he was in both the Navy and the Army. How that happened is this: Dad grew up poor. Although he was an excellent baseball player (and was scouted by the Cubs while he was at the University of Louisville), athletic scholarships did not exist in 1949. The ROTC was his best bet, and being a Navy brat, he decided to go NROTC at UofL. In case anyone's wondering, that gold ring with the dark blue stone that he wears on his right hand is his NROTC ring...it was the worst day of his life for any number of reasons when he washed out due to elevated blood pressure. Sometimes I think that may have something to do with why he chose to devote his medical career to treating hypertensives, but that's another story.

Dad had a few adventures in the Navy. He was trained as a Gunner's Mate on the USS Missouri (yes, the Mo). He also served a summer tour on the USS New Jersey. Then there's his ill-fated trip to Guantanamo Bay on a seaplane, during which they nearly crashed into the bay itself. As they dove at high speed toward the water, my father made a deal with God that if He let him live through it, he'd never get on a plane again in his life. From that day to this, my father has never set foot in an airplane. Dad has a thing about keeping his word.

When he washed out, he went to work in a slaughtering plant to make the money to at least finish college. He returned to the University of Kentucky instead, because it cost a lot less, and upon graduating with his biology degree, was promptly drafted in to the Army...

From Dad's tour of duty in Europe we have his snapshots of the castles on which Castle Frankenstein and Castle Dracula were based (he is a fan of the original 1930s horror movies). He went to the opera- he actually sang in the light opera company at UofL when he was a student- and he went to the ballet. He also said he never had a desire to ever tent camp again after a few frozen bivouacs spent in icy mud and sleet storms in rural Germany. He drank beer at the Hofbrauhaus, learned to like dark chocolate, and decided that he really liked schnitzel (which I learned to cook, taught by the Austrian war bride of one of his friends). More importantly, he was a medic with the Army ambulance trains coming into Landstuhl, Germany. There's still a big U.S. Army medical center there...my cousin Kevin was treated and processed through Landstuhl after a near-fatal car crash while he was in the Navy.

The big thing, though, is that Dad had the GI Bill when he got out, and eventually, after getting a masters' in zoology, the itch to be a doctor that started in Landstuhl finally caught up with him a few years later.

Dad was in the Army of Occupation. He didn't do anything glamorous. He didn't see combat. I still think he learned some useful things that he applied in greater service to the common good after he mustered out. After all is said and done, though, he learned to live in freezing mud. He learned to sew on a button. He learned to suck it up and deal with massive traumatic injuries. He learned how to shoot the fleas off of a dog at two hundred yards in high winds at twilight (yes, he qualified as a sniper). In short, he grew up.

Happy Veterans' Day to one and all who have served, and thank you.

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