Every Veteran has Signed a Blank Check
The Bear trundled over to his conveniently located Veteran's Administration Hospital for his flu shot yesterday. A news van pulled up in front, no doubt to find some ancient veteran to interview and do the obligatory Veterans Day story.
In the little half-circle drive before the entrance was parked a long black hearse. Someone's Veterans Day would be very different for his family. Was he one of the old Korean War or Vietnam War veterans? Was he a veteran of Afghanistan who committed suicide? What was the story behind that hearse?
The Bear is 60 in human years, which is not considered "old," he understands. He does not feel old, even if he is not young. Yet the hearse reminded the Bear of his mortality on one of the most beautiful autumn days he could remember.
It told a truer story than the one in which the news people were interested.
The Bear's adopted skin family has a strong tradition of military service. He wishes to talk about that, but up front, he wants to say something else.
Every person who serves in the United States military deserves your respect, he believes, even those who did not happen to see combat. When you raise your hand and take that oath, you are signing a blank check that does not even reserve your life. (Bear does not think that is an original analogy, but does not remember where he heard it.)
At a minimum, you and your family must go where you are told, and if your wife and very young four kids must learn how to live in a Sicilian village on the knees of an active volcano, then that's what being a military wife means.
And the Bear renders a separate salute to military wives, the true unsung heroes.
The Bear was frequently sent without advance notice to nearly every country touching the Mediterranean Sea, ships underway at sea, and the Gulf besides.
Separation goes with military service. It is hard on families.
There are no front lines anymore. Rear echelon military personnel are at risk from terrorist attack. Much of what is routine in the military is still dangerous. The Bear has landed on some very tiny-looking helo decks at the back of relatively small ships after a long helicopter ride over water. ("Remember, when the helicopter hits the water, the first thing that will happen is that it will turn upside down...") There is hardly a veteran who has not been around things either designed to be deadly, or potentially deadly despite being designed to be safe.
Whether you get shot at or not, you have promised you will go where the shooting is if ordered.
Whenever the Bear feels like a fraud at the VA hospital because he never saw combat, he remembers the hardships and risks, and, above all, that blank check that every veteran signs.
Bear's Family Military Tradition
His Grandfather on his mother's side fought in France during WWI, was blown up by an artillery shell and reported KIA to his family. He survived in the bottom of a crater, eating whatever food he could find on the bloated body of a German and drinking the water at the bottom of the crater.
When he was found alive, French doctors used maggots to eat the necrotic tissue from his wounds, on the theory they would not touch healthy tissue. He returned home and went back to work in the coal mines, being given a job he could do with one arm.
His only son, the Bear's favorite uncle and the brother of Bear's mother, served in the Pacific theater in WWII in the Navy.
The Bear's grandmother's brother (on his mother's side) was a Marine in the brutal fighting against the Japanese for Pacific islands. His helmet, pierced by shrapnel, is still displayed in a museum, for all the Bear knows. That helmet saved his life.
The Bear's mother was a WAVE in WWII, serving with blimps out of Moffett Field in California. Perhaps the enormous hangers are still there.
Blimps would prowl the west coast for Japanese submarines. There was a very real fear of a Japanese attack. In fact, crazy Jack Warner thought the huge roofs of the buildings housing his sound stages might be mistaken for the nearby Lockheed plant. He painted a big arrow on top of them with a sign that said LOCKHEED so Japanese bomber crews would not bomb Warner Brothers by mistake.
Bear's mother was taught to hold the handling bar of the blimp with an overhand grip, because experience had taught that sailors sometimes froze with an underhand grip and were borne irretrievably skyward. She forget this rule and had a long drop of about 20 feet. Luckily it was broken by a sailor on the ground.
Sometimes she actually went out on patrols, and the necessities of nature were pretty much left to the imagination of the crew. She told the story that the commander of the blimp would order "eyes front" whenever she did whatever it was she had to do.
She was very proud of her military service, and nearly up to the day she died, she would tell nurses and doctors about it.
Bear's father was in the Army Air Corps, but, probably lucky for Bear, did not see combat.
All three of their sons served in the military. Bear's two skin brothers served in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War. The Bear served as an Arabic linguist, XVIII Airborne Corps, 265th Army Security Agency attached to the 101st Airborne (Airmobile) Division. Later the Bear served as a U.S. Navy JAG Corps officer in the Gulf during the liberation of Kuwait, Operation Desert Storm.
The Bear's own twins served in the U.S. Army. One was over in Korea as linguist. The other was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and saw action during the March 1st 2014 deadly Green on Blue attack and other engagements in Kandahar province.
Reflections on his Own Undistinguished Military Service
The Bear is not old in human terms. Most of the veterans he sees are much older than Gulf War veterans. Many of them are combat veterans. Other than the sarin gas our side decided to release at the end of Desert Storm, the Bear's liver was the only thing put at any certain risk, although where he spent most of his time in the Gulf had been the target of Saddam's missiles.
He spent Desert Storm shuttling back and forth between NAS Sigonella in Sicily and the Gulf, sometimes staying in the Manama, Bahrain, Holiday Inn for over a month, qualifying him for the Southwest Asia Service Medal. How did he earn anything, he sometimes wonders, when he remembers all the time spent in the pool or playing tennis, and the fantastic buffet featuring a different national cuisine every night?
He has many stories about that period, but you would not believe them, and perhaps they would not be edifying.
For all the family tradition, the Bear strongly discouraged his twins from enlisting. The picture the recruiter paints is different from reality and no parent wants to see a child go off to war. We would obsessively check the official Facebook Page of his unit in Afghanistan, because we learned they would take it down after deaths. They would bring it back up only when the families had been notified and the appropriate memorials posted.
That nice official photo with the flag has a different purpose than to be proudly displayed by parents. It's for the memorial if their child is killed.
It is a strange and guilty sort of relief that someone else's son is dead, not yours.
But, the Bear thinks 911 had an effect on them. He suspects they were keen to deliver some payback, in some way. It was only by credible threats of breaking both of his legs that the one twin was dissuaded from going into the 82nd with his brother.
Now they're out, and choices have consequences. The Bear is very, very proud of them. (Although the still wishes they head listened to the voice of experience.)
The Bear salutes all Veterans.