The, "Just some thoughts" you find here is something I wrote back in 2009 describing some of my thoughts and emotions when our son Jay had left to begin his military service. This was written in 2009 and not the date he left for the service. That was years previous. And as I said we were not at war. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for parents and service men and women of that time. I cannot imagine what it must have been like sending sons and daughters off to war. On D-Day each year I think of the day our son left for the military and often I feel ashamed when I think in comparison to what those families did on June 6, 1944 or experienced during the Korean War. Yet those were my feelings.
OFF TO WAR AND I FELT ASHAMED
“Unless you are ashamed of yourself now and then, you’re not honest.”
It was a cold January morning. Night had gone too fast and morning had come too soon. This was like no other day for me or my son. The older generation was feeling one thing, the younger generation another.
We got up very early. I ate very little and we exchanged very little conversation. It was the morning of “very little.” I guess one might say I was “hurting.” Yet when I thought about it, I was somewhat ashamed. Our country wasn’t at war, but to a dad taking his son for military induction, facts don’t mean spit. They don’t even warrant the eraser on the end of a school kid’s pencil. The reality is, someone is leaving and going into a world unknown to both of us. Yes, he was fine. He had just graduated high school, mid-term, and he would be coming home at the end of the summer to start college in Arkansas. But to a dad, it is different. As I said, I was somewhat ashamed that I was feeling this way, down and depressed. I drove our son to the induction station that morning. He was sitting just to my right in the passenger’s side. I realized that very shortly that he was moving from the passenger side into the driver’s seat. We would be exchanging places.
Having been a teacher I had taught and loved history and was very familiar with the era of WWII. I could not imagine the thought of thousands of parents sending their sons and daughters off to war. As I drove, I remembered the day I was eight years old; that was the day in 1950 when my parents and I took my brother to the train station in Terre Haute, Indiana to send him off to join the Air Force. At that time there was a war, the Korean War. Here I am, just sending my son, Jay off to basic training.
I also thought about my son’s mother, my wife, who we had just left at home. Whether she was awake or asleep when we left the house so early that morning, I don’t know. She had said her good-byes, the night before, and I remember her “tosses and turns” that night were more than frequent. As I drove on, I thought about the Biblical character Abraham and the story of him and his son on their planned trip. I always wondered what he was going to tell Sarah when he got home. My son and I talked a little, but I think he sensed the mood. Well, I know he did.
Finally, we arrived at the induction center, the National Guard Armory in Flemington, New Jersey. I could see a dim light and some signs of life in the building. I saw what appeared to be a person in military dress. Was this the officer who now was going to become my son’s father figure? We were people at the opposite ends of an emotional yardstick. One ready to take on life, let’s go, what’s out there, but for me, I’m asking myself, “will he be alright, how good a job have his mother and I done? Oh, there’s so much we haven’t done. We hugged, shook hands and then he said to me, “Dad, don’t you and Mom worry, I’ll be fine.” With that, the car door opened and he quickly hit the sidewalk and the car door shut. Just gone, and I watched him take the steps, two at a time. Then he disappeared inside the building. Truly it was a new day, a new day for all of us.
Well, the next five months passed and he did just fine. I guess you could say Mom and Dad did fine too. Interestingly, he and I wrote each other just about everyday, and that is not an exaggeration. Those letters often said very little, and yet they spoke volumes.
When he came home, his mom and I met him at the Newark, New Jersey airport. I will never forget seeing him as he walked off that plane in his uniform. He never looked better to me, literally and figuratively. When we got to the car in the parking lot, I took my place in the front seat, but not the usual place. I had moved to the passenger’s side, as he was now the driver behind the wheel. A lot of things had changed and now they would continue.
You know, often we can have an emotion about a matter and tell ourselves it’s right or it’s not right, but on that day, I was ashamed of the way I felt, knowing the history of our country. Having once read that over sixteen million American men and women served in WWII, nearly 500,000 never came home and 700,000 were wounded. I knew those statistics, but yet this was my, our son, our child that left to serve our country, and I still could not help but feel so very sad. I knew his and our sacrifice was nothing in comparison to what the thousands of other families had once experienced. But once again, this was “our experience,” and while thinking this, it still pales in comparison. I still had a feeling like never before.
March 8, 2009