The Reluctant Veteran
My father was a World War II Army Air Corps veteran, in for the duration and stationed in the Marianas Islands. He was in the planes that dropped bombs on Japan.
When he got out, he came home with nothing but the uniform he was wearing, which he threw away as soon as he got some civilian clothes.
"I left two duffel bags full of uniforms in San Francisco when they checked us in," he used to say. "I started to walk away and this guy said to me, 'Hey, you forgot your stuff.'"
"I told him I didn't want any of it," my father said.
He lived a pretty normal life after that, tending bar, working in a men's store, finally settling into corporate America as a middle-level manager.
He would not accept any veteran's benefits: no insurance, no mortgage, no G.I. Bill for school, nothing.
They should give that stuff to the guys who enlisted," he said. "They had to come get me."
He saw combat.
"I was scared all the time," he said. "I thought I was gonna die every day."
He never joined a single veteran's organization.
"You ever been to the VFW?" he used to say. "You go down here and this one's the commander and this guy's the sergeant at arms and they're all wearing their medals and they're all saluting each other.
"Didn't they get enough of that shit when they were in the service?" he'd say. "I got enough of that shit."
He hated parades, too, and war movies.
The war story he told most often involved him sitting in a bar in Arizona, watching a strip show.
"The stripper was married to the comedian," he said.
And he'd laugh like hell.
He was unsentimental.
"The food was crap," he'd say. "The uniforms were ugly, and they were dropping bombs on you."
When his kid brother wanted to drop out of high school and join the army in 1943, my father wrote him a letter.
"I told him, 'What are you, stupid?'" my father said. "'Finish school, go out with a few more girls. Maybe it'll be over before you graduate. What are you, in a hurry to get killed?'"
His kid brother enlisted anyway and was in Europe with Gen. Patton.
"You idiot," my father used to say to him 30 years later.
In 30 years as a reporter, I've covered Memorial Day parades, Veterans Day parades and military funerals. I've taken down the words of politicians as they dedicate a bridge or a stretch of highway to "the brave fallen," to "the heroes."
They shove that "hero" stuff down your throat with a toilet plunger these days, days when you can't get a good job in this country.
So, when the flag flutters up the pole and "Taps" sounds in the bright sunlight, I think of Pop, who hated it all and told me his truth, unashamed.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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