Like millions of other young men in the 1940’s, Dad fought in World War II. He was an Army captain, leading his men in the Philippines. And, also like millions of other soldiers of that era, when the war was over he came home and spoke little of the experience in the ensuing decades. Sometimes he’d let us kids try on his old uniform jacket and officer’s hat; a few old photos showed him as a very young man with others in a remote jungle location. We would invent stories about some of the more mysterious objects on his dresser that may or may not have been war memorabilia; maybe he was just teasing us. Later, we learned about the trove of his letters home that Mom still keeps close by. Dad was proud of his service, and deeply patriotic. He just did not want to talk about what he saw in the war.
Much has been said and written about “The Greatest Generation,” those who lived through the Depression and World War II, who went on to raise the Boomer generation and create the wealthiest, most advanced society the world has known. Beneath the headlines and the hype are countless quieter stories, lives interrupted by the call of duty, service in strange and dangerous places far from families or the comforts of home. So it goes down through the generations of soldiers and sailors and all those we now call “warfighters.”
World War II might have been the last war around which there was true national agreement. In the six decades since WWII ended, this nation’s forays into major armed conflict — Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq — have provoked increasing skepticism, if not outright opposition, to war as a means to protect this nation’s interests, to ensure freedom. But Memorial Day is not a time to debate the ethics of war. Instead, today we remember the quiet men and women who answered the call to duty, people like Dad whose service so long ago helped to secure our way of life today.
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