I always opt to thank the vet.
I think I would be a terrific peacetime soldier, which is not unlike being a spouse in a productive marriage. Sure, there’s a lot of bitching and petty gripes, but the GIs realize we’re working for a greater good and soldier on. Adding kids to the equation makes the family unit like boot camp where the parents are the drill instructors and the young ‘uns are the green recruits.
And I think I’m good in that role, as is my wife, Col. Valerie.
But none of us can predict how we’d react under fire. Would I be hero or coward? I can’t handle the truth.
Like a lot of men, I’d like to be tested but I never felt the situational urge to put on the uniform like so many others have done.
I think I and the nation are weaker for it. I’m sure I could have benefited from a couple of years of service right out of high school. Imagine what kind of shape the country would be in if, instead of going straight to the college bars, guys like me had been conscripted to spend 18 months in the service of our country.
And I’m not even talking about overseas duty in hostile lands. I mean if at 18 we’d have done some basic boot camp and been dispersed to clean up the ghettos, to dig sewage projects in the Appalachians, or help distribute food and friendly company to the elderly.
It would have instilled a sense of national morality and the too often alien notion of what it feels like to do good for strangers.
But to enlist with the understanding that enemy fire will be trained on you takes another breed.
I like to think I’m like Albert Einstein -- and I doubt he’d ever reciprocate in any fashion -- in that we’re both what he called “rational pacifists.”
We don’t want to kill anybody. We believe reason can usually prevail and that war should be the last, least welcome option.
Rational pacifists saw sound reasons to engage in bloody all-out war with Hitler and the Taliban. We didn’t see it in the buildup to war with Iraq.
Yet, even in a war that many of us felt was misguided, hundreds of thousands of men and women, many righteously motivated by the attacks of 9/11, lined up to serve because they believe it’s their sacred duty.
The surfer dudes have practically neutered the powerful word’s original impact but, man, that’s awesome.
A few years ago I was once golfing with friends on Memorial Day and admitted to feeling sheepish that there we were skipping along in the sunshine, enjoying our favorite pastime, some beers and giggles, while men and women not too different from us were hunkered down in boiling bunkers in places like Baqubah and Jalalabad.
Despite being mired in two difficult wars, there was no homefront hardships in our little world.
My buddy Ronnie, himself an Army vet who’d served in Korea, gave a poignant response masked in a cheerful smile: “Hey, this is what they want us to be doing. This is why they serve.”
Well, that made me feel even more unworthy.
So those are some Memorial Day options for you to consider amidst the barbecue and the beers.
Either thank a vet or climb out of your lawn chair and go enlist.
Me, I think I’ll call Ronnie up and see if he wants to go golfing this week.
Guys like him are too humble to accept my thanks for what they’ve done on behalf of my country. It’s no big deal, they say.
That’s too bad.
It means I’ll probably have to give him strokes.
Alas, that’ll be the sad extent of my sacrifice on this Memorial Day.