This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Our Soldier Moves on

            During World War II, millions of Americans served in the armed forces, and it’s unlikely that more than a handful saw a friend or relative (or at least one who was out of uniform) on the day they finished basic training and moved on.
            There were several reasons for that. Travel was more difficult and expensive in those days, for one. But probably the main reason was that it wasn’t regarded as an occasion for celebrating. Almost every man of a certain age went through it, so there was nothing special about it, and the next step for many was going into battle and facing death or dismemberment.
            Times have changed. Serving in the military today isn’t mandatory; it’s a choice. Like all choices, some are made for better reasons than others. But even the young man who got his girlfriend pregnant and is trying to escape the wrath of her parents has easier options than the Army. It’s a serious commitment that entails considerable sacrifice, and the commitment should be honored regardless of the reason for making it.

They Came From All Over

            Because military service is now optional, the services have recognized the public relations value of celebrations. Having spent a number of years doing PR for a living, I know that it’s not all Spin City. In the best sense of the word, it can be an exercise in doing the right thing and making the right gestures, and there’s a personal and social value in doing that.
            Our son, Nick, went into the Army May 6. He’s been in love with flying ever since he was old enough to know it was possible, and is looking at a career in aviation. The Army offered him training as a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic, and he signed up for six years. There are easier ways to get into the business, so I have to admire him for taking this considerably tougher and more dangerous one.
            Before helicopter school, he had to go through infantry basic training, same as every other soldier. So he was sent to Fort Jackson, SC, one of several bases where they do that. The fort history says the site was chosen because of “its year-round temperate climate.” I reflected on that point last Wednesday as I sat in the bleachers at the fort’s Hilton Field for family day ceremonies. Before the thunderstorms arrived in the afternoon, the mercury climbed into the 90s, with stifling humidity.

Private Wallace Carries the Banner

            Linda and I had arrived from Atlanta the day before and were in the bleachers early. Nick was his platoon’s Guide-on, which means he carried a banner behind one of the drill sergeants as his platoon and company marched on to the field. He looked lean, fit, and in command of himself.
            After the family day ceremony Wednesday morning, we got to spend 10 hours with him on base, catching up. He was craving pizza, so we had lunch at a Pizza Hut, then visited the base museum and had a long talk in a shaded pergola by Lake Semmes, the fort’s largest park.
            The following day he graduated, and we drove him to his next posting, at Fort Eustis in Newport News, VA. He was calm, accepting and funny about his new life in the Army, and looking forward to the next assignment. After three wonderful days with him, we came away with the sense that he was feeling good about his decision, which made us feel better, too. We’re glad the Army made a big deal out of the occasion, and provided the chance for us to be with him and see how it’s going.