I am a veteran. I am also an atheist. I had the honor to serve with both, along with those who believe in Gods, gays who weren’t asked and didn’t tell, women, minorities, the handicapped, even citizens of other countries who served on behalf of their adopted home. Most of them served with distinction and some of them made the ultimate sacrifice. These days, they all volunteer. The military, like the civilian world, is everyone.
I am a veteran, a Cold War veteran. There is even a medal for it — or not. I come from a line of veterans including a grandfather both gassed and shot in WWI and a father who served aboard submarines in WWII. I have their casket flags and medals an arm’s length away and I see in them daily the sacrifice they made that allowed me to become a veteran. Yet even though I served, I always feel a bit odd about being a veteran on Veteran’s Day.
My “war” wasn’t a war, unless by war you mean people practicing for an unlikely one. My four-year enlistment was one of the few times since WWII that America had no major combat operations in the world. There was scant danger of me, or anyone else, being shot. But, that is true even when major wars are happening. Many civilians don’t know that most military members never get close to combat, even in “combat” zones.
It has become di rigueur to thank veterans for their service. When they thank me, I’m always a little embarrassed to be in the same class as Dad and Grandad. They were shot and shot at. They sacrificed family and friends. Not me. I just did my job.
Today is Veterans Day. I know this because I am a veteran. I also know this because I have a Cold War service medal, which ironically was not invented until about 5 years ago, long after the Cold War ended abruptly. Plus, my daughter sent me a happy Veterans Day email as she does every year.
The nation reveres veterans much more than they did a few decades ago, and they should. It is a tough life putting your ass on the line to save some other person’s ass…or in some cases, asshole. You know who you are. I’ll not get ugly today.
I joined the Air Force in 1977. Viet Nam was still a fresh memory and people tended to look down on saps like me who joined the military voluntarily. A life of gold chains, wooly chest hair, atrocious bell bottoms, and doing the Hustle while teetering on platform heels was supposed to have been nirvana. But if I had it to do all over again, I’d do it in a heart beat. In fact, sometimes I wish I had stayed and weathered a couple of wars. As it is for almost everyone who experiences it, military service is life changing and it changed me, radically, and for the better. Besides, I’m not much of a dancer and I knew better than to wear those ridiculous bell bottoms, even back in the day.