For me it began on the 23d of June, 1969. The Kent State shootings were nearly a year away and the country was rocking with protest centered around our military and the war in Vietnam. I had entered college in Kansas City with aspirations of working in the medical field. The son of an Army officer, who wore his hair short and respected authority was clearly out of his element. Patriotism had been pounded into my very being. It was time for a change, a dramatic change and change I did!
On that warm June day, I checked out of the life I knew and entered the US Army. I quickly realized that being AROUND the Army, as I had been all of my life, did not equate to being IN the Army. For the first time in my life, I was in a line that I could not get out of, and my journey began. When I think back to that day, I stood in a line with 30 or so young men who arrived at this point under a variety of circumstances. There were draftees, National Guardsmen, and volunteers, with backgrounds as varied as the points on a compass. We raised our hands, swore allegiance and began the experience that would give us standing to comment on the fortune or misfortune of our country until the day we make the last trip under our country’s flag. The beginning was marked by the Oath of Enlistment…..the ending, for most, involved clearing your last duty station, a cold beer and an unbelievable feeling of freedom earned and enjoyed. For some, the ending was quite different. Grieving family members and friends, a wonderfully poignant ceremony, and the presentation of the flag that covered the soldiers casket with a short, branch specific speech, acknowledging the appreciation of a grateful nation.At the center of these solemn occasions is the flag. When you swore allegiance it was the focal point of the ceremony as it is in the ceremony thanking you for your blood in the name of America. We just celebrated Flag Day, and to those who have served in our Armed Forces, this day is special in ways that many are not fortunate to experience.
Our marked inability to adapt to the new order in 1968 was the catalyst for entry into a great adventure for many young men. For me, given my background and strong patriotic feelings, it made perfect sense. I was one of the fortunate many who cleared the base at the end of this journey…….thus avoiding the speech reserved for those who paid in blood. The 4th of July is bearing down on us…..raise your glass and offer a toast to those who have underwritten America’s birthday. There will be more oaths of enlistment, blood spilled and offerings of appreciation in our future.The debt to those who have served, and will serve, is enormous.