Friday, November 8, 2013

Reflections on Veterans Day

I'm uneasy if someone thanks me for being a veteran. I did not join the Army to serve my country, to keep my fellow citizens safe and free, or to bring democracy to foreign nations. I joined because I didn't have a girlfriend and ran out of money for college; my new draft card marked me as 1-A. Joining voluntarily might let me avoid the infantry and become a pilot. Surely, I thought, pilots had lots of girlfriends.

In October 1967, at the age of 18, I was shipped off to basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. By January I had started flight school at Fort Wolters, Texas, near Mineral Wells, and then finished at Fort Hunter-Stewart just outside Savannah, Georgia. By October 1968 I had my wings and my bars and was headed to Vietnam.

1968:  Ft. Hunter-Stewart, Georgia

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Even then, as young and naive as I was, I had no illusion that I was helping the Vietnamese people or protecting friends and family back home. There was no feeling of pride for participating in a noble cause, only relief at being alive day to day. Flying helicopters was fun and exciting but even in a war zone military rules and regulations could be silly. The most popular acronym was FTA, F**k the Army.

1969:

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Looking back after all these years, I could try to convince myself that I had done something worthy of thanks, that I had served someone or something, but I must be honest with myself. I was an aimless kid with few options who could pass a flight physical. The war, like virtually all wars, was cruel, senseless, and unnecessary. Along with thousands of others, I was swept along by events and actions beyond my ability to understand or control.

Welcome me home if you'd like. (This can be important to Vietnam vets.) Perhaps congratulate me for being lucky enough to make it back. But thanks? Save that for when I buy lunch.

2 comments:

  1. yes, war is all the things you say. and, yes, you were swept along by all that was going on. but you deserve no less "thanks" for your service. i am no flag-waving "patriot". i simply feel a deep compassion for any young person who had to endure "relief at being alive day to day". and i feel sadness for so many deaths. i doubt many people thought they were helping "preserve the freedoms of Americans". that is good spin, but what everyone was doing was simply surviving for themselves and their buddies. no one in their right mind would want to be where you were. you saw the options, you made the choice. i am glad you are here to share your honesty, your insight, and your humour. with your wings and your dimples, i suspect you found a few girlfriends along the way! oh, and thanks! :)
    p.s. i am not really "Anonymous". i am, Kathleen, a friend of Missy Bendiksen

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  2. Thanks, Kathleen, for reading and all the kind words.

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