Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day

I served in the US Air Force from 1966 through 1970. Today is Veteran’s Day formerly known as Armistice Day which is the name I knew it by as a child. Then the day was set aside to honor the end of the First World War which didn’t actually end until 1945. In those days deep red poppies were sold as boutonnières to show respect for the dead of that conflict. Since 1918 there have been so many wars that the memorial day was converted to honor the living and the dead who have served the United States as members of the military.

I was drafted but enlisted before the Army could get its hands on me. I oppose any direct military draft but support some form of national service for all when they turn eighteen. The exact type of national service should be a choice. It could be military service, but it could also be hospital service, national park service, urban clean up, name it and it could be done. These people too would then be Veterans to be honored for serving their country.

Why would this be a good idea? Even though the Air Force is and was an all volunteer organization the draft forced people from all walks of life into service. This was a great leveler and gave those of us who served a sense of purpose, a maturing experience, a love of country, and an appreciation for the diversity of the citizenry of the USA. It was an experience I didn’t want but wouldn’t trade for anything.

The experience afforded me by military service is something I will never get over. Friendships made and lost in short periods. Experiences that heightened one’s awareness of the joy of life were contrasted by periods of boredom and loneliness. Excitement, fear, pride, sadness, joy, all compressed into stretches that could sometimes be measured in nano seconds and other times centuries.

All young people should have the opportunity to experience life in close quarters with friends and enemies with a job to do. Ours is a nation of 300 million souls defended by only 1,600,000 active duty personnel. A sense of purpose and true membership as a citizen is imparted when one gives of oneself for the benefit of others.

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