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Veteran’s Day

November 11, 2009

A few days ago, I wrote over at AJ’s Clubhouse about how history starts at home. The post was inspired by a post at another website on creating family histories with kids and also by a letter AJ received from my great uncle.

My great uncle is in his 80s, still tall and anything but frail and sharp as a tack — everything my grandmother was not in her last years. I didn’t really get to know him until about ten years ago, as for a long time, he and my grandmother did not get along so well. There was a lot of history there that I’ll maybe get into some other time. But today, Veteran’s Day, I want to talk about the letter he sent AJ. We had written to him for a school Veteran’s Day project. I knew he’d been in the service and we wanted to ask him about his time there. He came back with an amazing five-page letter of stories from the three wars in which he served (WW II, Korea and Viet Nam). He was a career army officer, a W3st P0int graduate, a paratrooper and a colonel. The stories are amazing, real, heart-breaking and sometimes funny. He didn’t dwell on the gore or romanticize, but he didn’t hide anything either. But it was the paragraph he wrote after the stories that really touched me. I include it here verbatim.

AJ, since your mother asked me to tell some of my military experiences, I thought I would try telling them with a sense of honesty and reality, rather than painting them differently than what they were. Truth is, being a combat soldier is a terribly difficult role, particularly when one must make decisions which sometimes result in the death or maiming of one’s fellow soldiers. Still, almost daily, I think of decisions I made which inadvertently resulted in the deaths of my friends and fellow soldiers. Yes it troubles me and I feel guilt for not having been able to intervene or change unforeseen actions, once in play, or perhaps having made the wrong decision from the start. I suppose most leaders feel that way while evaluating in retrospect. I pray almost daily for families left without husbands and fathers. And I pray for forgiveness of mistakes I may have made which resulted in deaths or wounds. That pains me deeply. One comforting thought is that I never asked anyone to do anything I would not have. I am eternally thankful that God has given me life and spared it through many dangerous times. And I know I am forgiven because of God’s love.

I, like most seasoned soldiers, have respect for the men we were required to fight and kill. For the most-part they too were skilled, tenacious and dedicated to their cause. I shall never belittle or defame them. I pray for them and their families as well.

There are many things on which my great uncle and I do not see eye to eye. Politically, we are not only on opposite sides of the fence, but possibly on different planets. But he is still someone I respect immensely for his kindness, his intelligence, his strong sense of ethics, and his belief that doing the right thing means more than his own personal safety and comfort. I am truly thankful that there have been and are people like him who are willing to put themselves on the line to protect the things they believe in.

Happy Veteran’s Day

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2009 2:13 pm

    lovely

  2. freshhell permalink
    November 11, 2009 4:28 pm

    Veteran’s Day for me is the day my grandfather died. 24 years ago. Since I have no relatives who fought in a war past the Civil War, I think about my grandad instead.

  3. crankygirl permalink
    November 11, 2009 4:43 pm

    That is a wonderful letter to send to a child. It epitomizes V-day for me.

  4. readersguide permalink
    November 11, 2009 8:47 pm

    That is quite a letter.

  5. November 11, 2009 9:23 pm

    The whole letter is just as remarkable. He’s an amazing storyteller, not through fancy language or structure — he’s very straightforward – but in knowing exactly what to say and what to leave out. I don’t feel comfortable running the whole letter here. He’s told me I may share it with whomever I want, but I’m pretty sure this is not what he had in mind. But I thought that one paragraph, which made me cry the first time I read it, was perfect for the day. If I could have my son learn one thing from him, it would be that. He loved the army — so much wrapped up in those few words. He clearly spent some time on this letter. And he told me later that he had never told his own sons some of these things and that he was going to send a copy to them too. The letter is a true treasure.

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