Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Veteran's Day

I think the happiest days of my mother’s life slipped by while she was serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Corp during WWII. I have sat with her in the past and gone through photo after photo taken back then. In every single one, she is smiling like she just won a million bucks. And for all that, she looks like a million bucks, with a stylish hairdo, tasteful cosmetics (including the bright red lipstick of the 1940’s) and a neat, trim uniform. Before she enlisted, she was somewhat transition, drifting around in the Midwest and stopping to work wherever she found a club with a house band that would let her sing along. Once she found her way into military service, she settled down into the routine of daily work—either doing clerical work or servicing military vehicles—and nightly play. In many of the photos from that time, she is sitting with handsome men around tables littered with beer bottles and cigarette butts. In my lifetime, I never saw her that happy.
My father’s story was a different one altogether. As a strong believer in patriotism, he felt it was his duty to serve his county. In 1942, he kissed his new bride good-by and told her he’d be home in a year. Then he picked up his army issue duffle and headed overseas. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, his orders changed, and he wasn’t able to return home for five years. By the time he returned, his wife had annulled their union and had married someone else. The child she carried when he left had died before reaching the age of one. My father never got to see his firstborn son.
All soldiers make sacrifices. War is hell and most individuals return to civilian life different, in one respect or another, from the person they were when they became ‘military issue.’ I have old friends who served in Vietnam—both were marines—who have never talked about their experiences to anyone since returning home. Neither man was wounded. Both bear invisible scars.
Occasionally now I have former students who have graduated return to campus to show me their dress uniforms, to announce they’ve made it through boot camp and are shipping out to places we know are dangerous. I see in their eyes the zeal of the uninitiated. Experience will teach them much, I think, and my fervent prayer is that each will return to homeland, family, and friends as a whole person, sans scars of any kind. I know they may be embarking on one of the greatest times of their lives. Or they may be required to make sacrifices they could never have foreseen.


  1. such a good story. Our celebrations, as in your post, are sometimes bittersweet. While celebrating do all of us really dig down and think about what these men and women did for our country. Sometimes I wonder, but by you telling your memories it will rekindle patriotism from all directions. thanks, glenn

  2. Dear Kay,
    I loved the tables of empty beers and cigarette butts, and your mom's evident joie de vivre back then. I did wonder if you appeared by immaculate conception. I couldn't figure out how you could exist...I suppose your brother might have been born after you were, but that didn't occur to me until later. Anyway, however conceived, I'm glad you're here!