Honoring Service

A post tonight to honor Veteran's Day, the veterans in my life and the people in my family who are learning the lessons about the value of Veterans. Tonight Anna Cate spoke at her school in a lovely service to honor Veterans this evening where many parents and grandparents were in the audience. Anna Cate spoke about her grandfather in an essay we wrote together.

A Veteran in My Family
By Anna Cate King

I love my veteran because he is my grand daddy, and I call him Daddy Doug. I think that it is so nice that he fought for the United States of America. I did not know that my Daddy Doug went to war until my Mom told me. He was 23 years old when he volunteered for service as an officer in the United States Army and went to Vietnam.

He lives in Tennessee and last week, I skyped with him to ask him what he thought about Veterans Day. He said it is a very serious day and on Veterans’ Day, he remembers soldiers that died so he would be safe on bridges and roads he traveled on. He told me that I owe my life to them because he owes his life to them. He always says “Welcome Home” to other Vietnam War veterans because they were not always treated nicely when they got home. So on Veteran’s Day I am thankful that I can call my Daddy Doug to say thank you and welcome home. 

And a reprint of a post about awareness and service.

I grew up in a military family, not one where we moved around because a parent was a career service person....but by military family, I mean the men in my family serve and that the service is taken seriously.  

On my dad's side, my grandmother's father was in th Navy. He joined at 18 and worked his way up to get a commission. He was on the USS Baltimore, which was right behind Dewey at the Battle of Manilla Bay and he retired a commander.  

My paternal grandfather was an artillery officer in World War II. 

His brother, my great uncle, was a Marine fighter bomber pilot of B25s during World War II, flying 65 successful missions. 

 After the war, my grandfather later was assigned to be a defense lawyer for 33 Germans in the Dachau war crime trials. There is a book written about those trials and you can read more about that here

My father was an officer as a military policeman doing convoy work in Vietnam. He was not drafted, but went out of a sense of obligation to his country and to his family. My brother went to Virginia Military Institute. 

He served as an artillery officer, like our grandfather, and spent four years in the Army, including a 15 month deployment in Iraq, where he saw a lot of combat as well as made Iraqi friends.

 And those are just a few of the stories. My mother's great grandfather was in the Confederacy; my Aunt Anne's husband Glenn was in Korea.

My Granny's uncle was in World War I fighting in France as an artillery officer. Pitts Nunnelly, my great-great uncle, was in the Army Artillery in World War I and was at the battle of Saint Michele in France. (as an aside, talk about a forgotten War: WWI)

War was a part of my consciousness as a child because we Bateses talk about things, and my dad wanted me to know and appreciate history and the American military. My grandmother talked about her father as a career Navy man and her experiences during WWII, where she weekly wrote to both her husband, her brother and her brother-in-law as well as raising my aunts on her own. My Granny and I were so close.

I appreciate the stories she shared with charm and depth more and more with each passing year.  She, too, was proud to be in a military family. 

I recall on a picnic as a child along a creek bank, Daddy told me the story of Robert E. Lee.  I remember as a little girl crawling in my mother's lap and told her I didn't want Douglas to go to war. He played a lot of GI Joe so I guess that is why it was on my mind.

As a History major and History teacher, I'm aware of the statisitics and stories of sacrifice in the building of our nation. When my brother was deployed to Iraq, I can not adequately express the misery of knowing your brother is in harm's way.  In the beginning when I would hear of a casualty or fatality, I would then be relieved to know it wasn't Douglas. By the end of his deployment, the sense of relief dwindled as my heart still lingered in grief for some family who did get that dreadful knock at the door. 

This blog is about an everyday American family. We are middle class Americans who feel like we work for our comfortable life and while I realize that it is a big deal to me, my life is quite typical. What goes unmentioned all too often for all of us in our typical American life is the protection made possible by men and women who serve(d), providing for our comfortable existence.  Really, they provide for it. . .not us.

Monday was the anniversary of DDay and most Americans know this story of heroism and undaunted courage whereby Allied troops stormed the beaches of enemy territory in France. The staggering number of casualties are dimly out-shined by the stories of heroism.  We duly laud the significance of this war and honor the men who gave their lives in it. But I'm afraid that in current times we as a community are disgustingly not cognizant of the undaunted courage and heroism of the American military today.

(picture above is at the stage of Virginia Military Institute the day of my brother's commissioning. I know there are men who received their commissions that day who gave their all.)

I teach 8th grade, and when I mentioned one of the wars in passing during class, a student said, "we are in war? I didn't know that." Do you think a 13 year old in 1944 would have been unaware? Of course, not....because her father, or brother, or uncle, or neighbor (or all of them) would have been there fighting it for us.
(My grandmother's brother, her husband's brother, and her husband. I can only imagine her awareness of the war.)

In discussing the fact that 1% of our country's population are bearing 100% of the burden of war, Tom Brokaw said,  "I, as a political reporter, believe very strongly that this democratic republic cannot have something that involves our blood and treasure assigned to only a very small part of our population, and nothing else is asked of the rest of us," Tom says. "That’s not just unjust. In a way, it's immoral."

In addition to my student's comments, my sweet husband has had a change of perspective and all of this really was just an introduction to the story he wanted to share. This could be your story, too. Until my watching BJ's transformation, I was unaware at just how unaware many Americans are. 

By BJ King on June 5 2011:
I don’t know how to tell this story other than just start here and see where it goes:
A C31 cargo plane is flying over head while we are sitting in the stands at Fed Ex field attending the Kenny Chesney and Zach Brown Band concert last night and I look at the guy next to me and say “ Hey they must be flying into Andrews Air Force base”  he looks  at me and says, “ Yeah they fly all the wounded warriors in on Friday and Saturday nights.”  I just about lost it.  Here I am tailgating,  playing corn hole, and having a good time on a Saturday night and we have young men and women fighting 3 wars around the world and I just expect to be free.  I don’t sacrifice much; I go about my life and don’t worry about my safety that much.  And they volunteer to give me that peace of mind and they get to fly in on a saturday night with horrific injuries that I haven’t up until now had to worry about.
I was not brought up to focus on the military that much and it and the people who served never really stood out to me.  This year for christmas Big Doug gave me a gift that changed that perspective.  Marrying into a family that has so honorably served for many generations had sparked my curiosity about their stories.  Being a person that focuses on life’s stories, Doug recorded his memories of Vietnam and also told his father's stories from WWII.  Douglas, my brother-in-law, recorded his memories of Iraq.    The gift was the collection of these stories.  I listened to them while driving around and this is when my eyes were opened wide.  Big Doug tells the story of one day while leading a convoy, they were told to wait to set up for the night for their trip out the next day and a platoon was sent forward to make sure the road would be safe.   He recalls seeing the bodies of some sent to clear the road that had been killed so that his way was safe.  At that moment I had to stop on the side of the road because I realized I owed so much to those men.  They not only secured the road and gave all that day, but they allowed me to experience life as I know it with my wife and children and that of countless other families. It is from that day on that I have been making my self aware of the sacrifice and thank those that serve.
This sacrifice was more evident on Saturday night more than ever to me.  The young man sitting next to me is why we must be aware.  His 12 year old brother Larry who sat next to him is why we must be aware.  He knew about the Friday and Saturday night flights carrying the wounded into Andrews Air Force base because he had taken that very flight.  Justin Gaertner sat next to me. He was 22 years old, he has served 3 tours in Afghanistan.  He volunteered to serve multiple tours so that those with families might not be deployed.

On his 3rd tour he lost both his legs and severly injured his left arm when an ied exploded near him.  Sitting at a country music concert with many patriotic songs in the air knowing that only 1% percent of our citizens are serving is why we must be aware and worry about how we care for these brave few. I feel guilty for not being aware but now also feel compelled to make others aware.  He seemed to want to tell me a little of his story. As he told me, I could not muster any words other than thank you and how honored I was to have met him.  I hope that we are able to stay in contact with each other and that one day my daughters can meet him.  Because I will be sure that the generation that I help raise will be aware and understand this sacrifice.
In my hurry up and go life, I sometimes overlook things that I should sit and appreciate.  But meeting this young marine last night just about knocked me over.  His strength and selfless giving of all really opened my eyes.  In a perfect world, war would be avoided and men like Justin would not have to give of themselves to such extremes.  But in this world we have wars and some make way more than their share of sacrifices.  So I feel obligated to pause each day and pray for them and say thanks to the men who died that day in Vietnam that cleared the road, for Justin and his family, for Breck Perry who is currently in Afghanistan, Douglas Bates II, Douglas Bates III, Douglas Bates IV and the hundreds of thousands of others who have provided what I until recently took for granted: Freedom, Peace, and Safety.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. --John Stewart Mill--

On the day in January that BJ heard Daddy's story he choked up often as he told me about his revelation and he was full of emotion as he tried to email Daddy about his newfound sentiments of appreciation for his opening his eyes. Those same tears of awe and overwhelming gratitude filled his eyes Saturday night, sitting next to his new hero Justin, when BJ looked at me and said, "this may be my new mission in life."  
Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world, but the Marines don't have that problem.  --Ronald Reagan

*All of the family pictures are provided by my aunt and uncle, Anne and Glenn Horner, who honor our family with preserving the images as well as the stories.