I know I'm late commemorating D-Day, which actually occurred 69 years ago last Thursday, but for weeks our troops were pinned down on the Normandy beach and dying trying to drive inland.
I was only just three when D-Day took place, so my personal memories of the actual event do not exist. What I do remember is the story of my sister-in-law's first husband who was killed on Normandy beach that day. One day, she showed me the telegram stating that her husband, an Army captain, was lost in the battle. She also had his captain's bars, which she gave to me. I was 10-years-old, and the end of the war was now another decade gone.
From time to time, I gazed at the bars, wondering how the captain had died. It also conjured up thoughts of the total horror of the landing, and the fact that life suddenly had become a matter of good luck.
The ships and planes are gone now from the French coast, where an endless cemetery overlooks the ocean. Comrades in arms from many nations are buried not far from where they fell during the Longest Day.
None in my family served during the war. My brothers were too young, and Dad was given a medical exemption. My closest kinship with the war was my sister-in-law, Mary's, experience.
Fact is, I was the only one to ever serve in our family. Drafted in 1966 as the war in Vietnam crested, I knew it was going to take my life.
I guess it didn't after all.
The thing is that ALL draftees went to Nam, as kind of a punishment for not volunteering. The fact I had a "US" in front of my service number rather that the "RA" designating those who had signed up was the source of many pushups in front of my drill sergeant at Fort Bliss, Tex.
After the 400 in my Army inductee group finished the physicals, they put us on a train in Denver for the long night ride to Texas. It was a dark moment
My room buddy was also a draftee, and we both talked all the trip about the fact we were doomed. It was something I actually believed, and something my friend lived long enough to make it so for him.
His name, along with lots of others I knew at Bliss, are on the wall.
Luck continued to ride in my barrack's bag. I fell out for roll call at Bliss when basic was finished – where I had Iearned that the spirit of the bayonet is "To Kill" – and they called our names and our next assignment. It seem like the captain kept saying the same thing after each name he called: "RVN." Republic of Viet Nam.
But when he got to my name, it was off to clerks school at Benjamin Harris in Indianapolis where I was taught to type, even though I had acquired that skill in high school.
We fell out at Harris, and the "RVNs" rattled off, but when they got to me it was off to Fort Huachuca in long lost Sierra Vista, Ariz., last outpost of the horse cavalry, 60 miles from Mexico and three feet from Hell
I was taught to type again.
We fell out under a starry desert sky for our next assignments. After a large number of "RVN," they told me I was going to Fort Jackson in South Carolina, where I spent 18 months as a personnel specialist and made the rank of E-5 – not bad for a draftee in less than two years.
I never went to Nam and I never did anything to try to avoid it. Maybe some day, I'll go read those names on the wall again.
We should not forget.