Then There Was That Other Memorial Day

Memories are special. They exist outside of time and space. Even of words. They arrive at the stir of a whim or the command of a tear. They are altogether indispensable to our existence, for otherwise our little rivers of life might simply empty into dark dead deltas. 

Memorial Day invites us to bring some memories back to life, just like the Spring does the earth. Mine go back to the WWII year 1943. The war against Germany and Japan was at its bloody height. Three of my cousins were in the service, and had it gone on much longer, I would be next.

That Memorial Day my 46-year-old Father told us he had enlisted. But that’s impossible, Dad! He explained he had volunteered. Automobiles were hisspecialty since childhood, and now he felt his expertise could be used in what had clearly become a highly technical military. The Army agreed. He would report to Camp Butner, North Carolina in a week as an Automotive Adviser with the rank of Captain. It housed an enormous Motor Pool division, which learned it was easier to teach men to shoot a gun and a rifle than to maintain a Jeep or a tank.

That Memorial Day in Chicago was especially robust, with parades, ceremonies and tributes to our fighting men. Especially down State Street, and at Soldier Field. But nowhere was there any mention of over-age-volunteers. I resented that until I realized it meant there were so few of them, which in turn made me even prouder.

Memorial Day 2017 will be altogether different. Not only because we don’t have millions of men overseas, but because the notion of volunteering has changed. Special civilian skills are still needed by our military, however, now those skills have to be hired. Private military companies like Blackwater and Titan handle military assignments for a price not a purpose. All part of theprivatization of our military in which there is about 1 civilian for every 10 GIs.

Studies have shown this is more cost-efficient. Even before the studies there have been military mercenaries throughout history. In our own Revolutionary War, King George III sent Hessian troops as mercenaries to the colonies. The question starting all the way back to ancient Egypt and Persia has been: does the cost efficiency help win the war?

I don’t imagine Dad was weighing such thoughts when he volunteered. He simply did it for what pundits today like to call “the right thing to do.” They, and most of the rest of us, say it from the comfort of our home. Dad said it and did it by leaving that comfort for the next two years.

We missed him terribly. But the way I see it, the country would have missed him even more. I’ll be saluting him this Memorial Day, convinced such quiet devotion is needed now more than ever….df4eb665bbac6696c9ccee3b26c4bbfc

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