Posted by: deadmousediaries | November 7, 2011

Honor, Duty, Country and the Occasional Tootsie Roll

   One of the few things I miss about my old office is the view I always had of the annual Veterans Day Parade. In a matter of seconds I could wheel my chair around to a spot where I had elevated, front row seating, smack dab in front of the heating unit. Nice perk.

   My dad and father-in-law both fulfilled their pledge to protect and defend our country and they both came home intact from far away places but they never talked about their tours of duty. For my part, I had simply endured all the mandatory history classes. I should have learned about what they experienced but I was well into my career before I really got a glimpse of understanding of what it means to have earned a rank and serial number.

   What I have learned about the real battles in military service I’ve heard from my son who has devoured every article, book and memoir he can lay his hands on about military history. Surviving lack and uncertainty, overcoming sub-zero temps and scorching heat, even out-lasting boredom and bad leadership are a few of the other battlegrounds that rarely make the textbooks. In his retelling, my son unfolds the smallest details of a soldier’s life with such poignant nuance that I have to wonder if he is an Old Soul, recycling his own past memories.

   His best excavations are the stories he is putting together as a collection under the title: Ingenuity on the Battlefield. That’s where I learned that in the desperate cold of WWII, the Army beetle crushers cut slits in their sleeping bags to wear them as parkas. Soldiers slept with drained engine oil every night to keep it from freezing and they spread their wet socks on their chests as they slept so they would have dry ones in the morning.

   My son has helped me appreciate what soldiers know about small comforts. A burning K-ration box gave off enough heat to warm up a cup of coffee. A hot chocolate packet cooked on an engine block could be turned into a combat cupcake. At other times, small treats became lifesavers. A wad of gum between dog tags kept them from clinking and giving away a soldier’s position. A string of C-ration containers served as an alarm on the perimeter. A frozen mash of Tootsie Rolls made a pretty good plug for a gas tank with a bullet hole.

   My favorite of his stories is about the WWII Navy destroyer, the U.S.S. Borie. The ship was going down and had used the last of her fuel; there was no more power to even radio for help. As the officers contemplated the fate of the crew, the ship’s doctor watched a shipmate pull out a cigarette and an idea was ignited. Zippo lighters, still a hallmark of that era, were collected from the crew and every drop of lighter fluid was drained into the ship’s generator. It was enough to send one last distress call, the one that got them rescued.

   I recently spent a little time talking with a special group of vets who make up the Honor Guard of VFW Post #1599. While they each have their own tales to tell, the original men formed the group in1948 to honor others’ stories. In the early years, they were there to provide a fitting graveside tribute to soldiers who were being sent back home to their final resting place. Today, 27 members of Post #1599 from all branches of the military pledge their time to step up and bestow these final honors for veterans all across our area.

   Headed by my longtime friend George Gearhart, the Honor Guard includes retired airmen, specialists and tech-4s, sergeants, warrant officers and a major. From age 35 to 95, they don full dress uniform and appear, regardless of the weather, wherever they are needed. They will have performed more than 90 military honors this year alone. In a recent year, the service count was 145.

   When a family gathers with friends to say goodbye for that last time, the presence of the Honor Guard against a pale blue sky helps share the weight of the loss for those few moments. As the shots ring out and the bugler sounds taps, even those of us who have never served get some sense of what it means to have been part of something bigger and more important: a shared experience that has earned that title Veteran.

One for honor. One for duty. One for country,” the Captain of the Honor Guard proclaims as he presents the empty casings and the folded flag to the family at graveside. Their stories may be ending but their service will not be forgotten.

   If you are lucky enough to get to view this year’s Veterans Day parade, cushy seat or not, watch for the Honor Guard to pass and see them as a reminder. Remove your hat, cover your heart and say a little prayer for all the men and women across the ages who have made the pledge to defend and protect the ones they leave behind.

Copyright 2011.  Mitchell Kyd. All rights reserved.

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Responses

  1. This was beautiful to read. You know how much I love our veterans. I would love it if you came to our Veteran’s Day program Friday at 8:00 am. It is going to be very special and feature Linda Heinrich – author of Jason’s Helmet, a truly moving story.

  2. I think your voice is in fine form and this entry proves it. The unpleasant details of service make the veterans’ contributions even more impressive. Those are stories I think we need to hear. The human toll of war will do more than any political salvo to keep us striving for peace. Thank you!

  3. Your voice is back, have no fear, Yvonne.
    Truly heartfelt words fall from your pages to this reader’s mind.
    Take care of yourself and your family.
    It’s a process, unforgiving, but finally somewhat forgettable.
    Love from this family to yours.


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