With Memorial Day creeping slowly toward us, I wanted to share an experience I had at the grocery store yesterday.
I took my daughter to the store to do our usual shopping, and as we ambled down the first aisle an elderly gentleman – spry and active as someone 50 years his junior – commented on my daughter’s “adorable blonde head”. I noticed the Veteran’s pin on his hat right away and lately have been enjoying reading Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation – a nonfiction book about those who lived through and fought in WWII – so rather than just thank him for his compliment and moved on, I asked him about his service record. I’d like to tell you what he shared with me in the five or so minutes we stood there chatting.
This gentleman turned 16 in 1944. He immediately signed up for active duty in the military – he became a Marine – and lied about his age to do so. He was found out just before he was supposed to ship out to the South Pacific and was kept in the states, to his great dismay. Boot camp had made him a man, he said, and he was ready to prove himself to God and country...but as he turned 17, the war was ending, and he had a decision to make. He wanted to serve. “Stick around, Corporal” said the Marines. “You’ll be shipping out sooner than you think.”
A few years later he went to Korea. He says it was there that he was REALLY made a man; he’d been wrong the first time. He was fascinated by the people and culture, fought with everything in him, and said he nearly froze to death every night every winter. When his service was complete, he had a decision to make. He still wanted to serve...but he wanted to serve somewhere a little warmer. “Stick around, Sergeant,” said the Marines. “You’ll be shipping out sooner than you think...and it’ll be warm there.”
And he did. And then he served in Vietnam. Still he was fascinated by the people and culture, fought with everything in him – and bolstered the morale of many a man who learned he had fought in, survived, and returned from Korea only to lead them now – and said he practically baked in his skin and took a shower in his clothes just walking outside every day he served there. When his service was complete, he had a decision to make, and he served until 1973 when finally he retired.
Twenty years later the US became involved in Desert Storm, and he called up the Marines, offering his services and citing former military service. They asked where he had served, and when they found it he was just a little older than their average active-duty corpsman, they politely declined his help. He was disappointed. “I could have at least sat behind a desk in Afghanistan or Saudi and done paperwork,” he reflected sadly. “They can always use someone with a little experience...but I suppose it is your generation’s turn to protect this great nation of ours.”
Indeed, sir. You have served honorably and valiantly in the defense of these United States to ensure my freedom, and God bless you for it. It is our turn. We must overcome our entitlement attitudes and see this country for what it is...for what it was intended to be...to actively contribute to it and to make it even better if it is within our power to do so.
That gentleman made me proud to be an American, proud of our servicemen and women, proud to be a conservative who values our country’s Constitution and wishes to take personal responsibility for my life instead of letting my government grow so big that it makes my decisions for me. Memorial Day will take on new, extra, and a profound meaning for me this year, thanks to this aged Marine and those who fought – some who died – as he served. God bless him, God bless them all, God bless our country, and God bless us as we face the challenge of protecting this, our beloved country, from foes both foreign and domestic.
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