"I am honored to be one of the many who was listed in the video. I am honored to know I have served with so many of my contemporaries. Not only honored, but proud."
Yesterday in the mail I received a surprise letter. In the letter was a CD and a thumb drive. The thumb drive was a video tribute to all the young men (and a few women) who answered the call to serve this country after graduation, some fifty years ago. Yes, I was one of them.
The team who put this tribute together have been passionate about setting the record straight for years now. About righting a wrong. You see, when the boys from yesteryear came home to the United States after serving in combat or otherwise, the "welcome home" mat was not out. In fact, many were besmirched, disrespected, or worse.
I have made this point before. Am I embarrassed when some stranger comes up and thanks me for my service? No, not a bit. Even though it is not necessary for folks to do so. Like most, when the plane touched down at Travis Air Force Base after being gone from friends and family for over a year, a simple smile, nod, or "welcome home" would have meant the world to us. Instead, there was indifference, ignorance and even scorn.
Today's young men and women who have answered the call to venture into far away lands like Kuwait, Afghanistan, or Iraq, get a much different homecoming. It is like we have come full circle since World War II. Veterans today are looked upon with honor and favor rather than dishonor and disfavor.
I remember one of my wife's relatives asking me not long after we were married, why I went in the service. He was younger than I, so he never had the specter of the draft hanging over his head. Speaking of which, the draft was the reason many my age answered the call. Many young men were either drafted or chose to enlist. Some even volunteered for the draft.
I had lost my 2S student deferment while up at St. Cloud State. It seemed like every week, some young man would all of a sudden be gone from the dorm I stayed in. Drafted, and then gone. I knew my time was limited, and there was no way on this green Earth I could catch up with enough credits to get my student deferred 1A classification back. So I took my option. I drove to downtown St. Cloud to the federal building, and joined the Navy. Little did I know the four years I signed for would end up be twenty-one and a career.
It turns out when the lottery came out in late 1969, I was already done with boot camp and in service school. As soon as the numbers were announced, many young men who had joined the Navy to get out of the draft let out blood curdling screams. Why? Their draft lottery numbers (based on their birthdays) were 250 and above. No chance of being drafted with those numbers. My number? I will never forget it. My number was 10. One way or the other, I was destined to serve.
Would I have still served during those turbulent times if there had been no draft? I have thought about that many times in my life. I would like to think the answer would have been yes. For service to our country was not an option. I, like many of my contemporaries, was raised by parents from the greatest generation. I was raised in a house where love of country and the duty to preserve freedom and liberty were unspoken yet necessary values.
Looking at the video presentation last night brought a tear to my eye. Seeing all those (at one time) young folks who answered the call, left a profound impact on me. And who were those young men and women? They were us. Us living in a time and place very distant from where we are now.
I am honored to be one of the many who was listed in the video. I am honored to know I have served with so many of my contemporaries. Not only honored, but proud.
And for those brave young men who made the ultimate sacrifice, for whom do the bells toll? They toll for thee. Sleep well brothers - until we meet again.