The Burden I Carry.........
This is a story about an unfulfilled sense of patriotism wrapped around a feeling of survivor guilt, which has followed me since 1969. It was the height of the Viet Nam war.
In the spring of that year, my father, a WWII hero, who flew reconnaissance combat missions over North Africa, Sicily and Italy, told me he didn't believe in the Viet Nam war. He urged me to enlist in the Air Force, as soon as my student deferment expired in June, instead of being drafted into the Army.
He saw no reason to risk my life in a war that made no sense to him and many other veterans of his era. Unexpectedly, the Delaware National Guard opened their enrollment that May, so I jumped at the chance to finish my college education and serve my six year commitment to the Army, as a "civilian soldier." He was satisfied with my decision.
During the past forty-five years, I often reflect on that decision with an empty feeling of patriotism and survivor guilt. Prior to my enlistment, I had already lost a high school friend in combat, but sometime during my six years in the National Guard, I lost my best friend from college. He was killed on a jungle patrol, three weeks after his arrival in Nam.
After my Army basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, a majority of my friends from Alpha Company were assigned Advanced Infantry Training, which at that moment in time...... meant......eight weeks of learning how to kill the enemy, before you went to Nam.
One day on the firing range, a drill sergeant asked me, "if I would be interested in sniper training?" When I told him I was in the National Guard, he turned his back to me and walked away.
I do not know how many of my friends lived or died. I returned home an expert marksman with an M-16 and training as a truck mechanic.
They put their life on the line for their country........ I did not.
To add to my feeling of shallow patriotism, over the years, I have learned more about my family member's role in World War II. I have read historic (world wide) newspaper accounts of my late dad being the first Allied pilot over the invasion of Sicily. He helped photograph the pre-invasion enemy positions, then later was selected to be the first pilot to photograph the invasion for Army Intelligence, while flying his P-38 Lightening (without machine guns, bombs or cannons) over enemy territory. The Allied code name for the invasion in 1943 was Operation Husky. After his debriefing, back at the make-shift air strip in North Africa, he was allowed to talk to newspaper reporters, anxious to hear any news about the invasion.
On another recon flight over Italy, later in the war, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and flack passed through his canopy, just inches behind his head. Some how he made it through the war, without a scratch
Other family stories include my late father in-law's D-Day accounts of going ashore at Normandy, fighting at the Battle of the Bulge and liberating a Nazi concentration camp. I have also heard stories about my late great uncle's account of being a paratrooper, who was wounded in a battle for the liberation of the Philippines.
To feel a much needed sense of patriotism and to lift my spirits, I always attend military ceremonies on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. I respect and applaud all the veterans and current military attending in uniform. However, I do not stand or participate in any ceremony, when the Army vets are recognized and applauded. I will always feel that I did not earn the right to stand in their spotlight.
I often stop strangers wearing military caps displaying past war's information and thank them for their service to America. I pay for the lunches of traveling military in uniform, when I see them in a restaurant. I believe all vets deserve respect and recognition for their service.
Many of my friends and family put their life on the line for their country. I did not.
When I look into the eyes of my children and grandchildren, I will always wonder if it was fate, luck or God's hand in 1969, that changed my life forever! They bring joy to my life and always lift my spirits.