Twenty-One Guns Ain’t Near Enough!

Published: Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 10:34 AM.

            I never served one day in the Armed Forces. It simply was not my destiny. Sometimes, even now, I lay awake long into the night and wonder what if…… And I have always, deep down, been just a little ashamed that someone else was sent off to do my fighting for me.

            Maybe that is why I so admire, appreciate and love, in the truest sense of that word, every single man and woman that ever suited up on my behalf!

            My first encounter with veterans started way back in grade school. On the eleventh day of the eleventh month the whole school turned out by the flag pole to see these old men line up behind a little cannon they’d brought with them. Miss Carolyn said they were from World War I. They’d wait till exactly eleven o’clock, fire off that cannon, and then step back, rather smartly I thought for old guys, and salute while the high school band played the Star Spangled Banner. Most of them would wear their uniform jacket or an old green army hat. Some were tall and skinny; others short and fat. They looked pretty ordinary to me. I couldn’t picture those old guys fighting anybody!

            We called it Armistice Day back then.

            Daddy was a veteran. He never said a word about World War II. And I mean not one word! Me and David Mark couldn’t believe it when we found that old uniform in the closet. We had never heard of the South Pacific, and had no clue where it was. Mother wouldn’t let us ask him hardly anything about the war. Dave and I did take those bright colored ribbons and arrowheads off that dress uniform and pinned them on our t-shirts. We promptly lost them playing army down at the big ditch. If Dad ever noticed the missing awards, he never said a word. You’d a’ thought the whole war was just something to forget about and move on. Dad was about as ordinary as anybody you’d ever seen.

            I knew Chandler King was at Pearl Harbor. I remember Peajacket Lawrence served in the Navy. Mr. Ben Gaines had fought in Italy. Anne Alexander’s father was in the service. As was Yogi’s and Ruth Ann’s. Almost all the merchants around town had served in one branch or the other. They seemed like such ordinary men to me.  

            I was in the seventh grade before I realized there might be more to this veteran thing than meets the eye. You understand how silly and immature you can be at that age. I came home one day limping along and moving my head about, mocking an old man that lived just outside of town. In my own defense here, I knew nothing about shell shock or post-traumatic stress disorder. I made a couple of passes across the porch when it dawned on my Father who I was making fun of. Folks, he leaped across a rocker and two swings and lifted me off the concrete steps with one hand. He was literally shaking he was so mad! I could make fun of the ladies and their big hats at church and he never said a word. I could “preach” with my hand up in the air like Brother Hatcher and that was o.k. I picked on the wrong guy. “Son, you don’t know what that man has gone through. You have no idea of the nightmares he has seen. You don’t have a clue as to the sacrifices he has made. You wouldn’t know a real hero if he ran over you in a lighted hallway!”

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