Monday, November 11, 2013

In honor of their service

I inherited a number of books from my Dad.

I have various book he read, various Bibles he owned and a collection of books and commentaries he used in his pastorate.

Out of all the books he passed on to me, there is only one that he personally presented to me and wanted me to have. It is a book called "Abundant Living". I've never read it and have barely looked at it.  It was given to my Dad by his Army buddy Bob Gough.

My Dad was a radio operator during World War II. Because of his skills as a radio man, he actually stayed behind longer then the rest of his company, much to his displeasure. By the time he reached Europe, the worst of the fighting was over. So Gough shipped out before my Dad and he never came back.

That book sits on a shelf with a number of other things of immense value to me. There's a ship model my grandfather never finished. There's various birds that my Uncle Doug made. There's "the box" that my grandfather left behind for Dad after going to the hospital with a heart attack. It had all my grandfather's pertinent papers.There's my Hitler Youth Knife, one of my Dad's war souvenirs. There's pendant that belonged to my great grandmother Douglass.

The book is an important keepsake not only because it was given to me by my Dad but because I know it was important to him. I know little about Bob Gough but I know he was a valuable friend to my Dad and at very young age. I can't image the feeling of loss he felt when he learned that his friend had been killed in action.

One thing I regret about my Dad is that I didn't talk to him a lot about his war experiences. Maybe he wouldn't have wanted talk about them anyway. But I know one viewing of Saving Private Ryan had him talking about WWII for days, especially if he came across a fellow veteran.

I've always been interested in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War but hadn't developed an interest or appreciation of the history of WWI or WW2.
Since my Dad died, I've learned a little more about that era. I've watched various movies and documentaries, including the Band of Brothers box set, which my Dad would have loved had he ever watched it. I have the Jeff Shaara books on WW2 that I bought for my Dad and now own. I may read those soon.

Learning what I have has given me a greater appreciation of the sacrifices of so many soldiers, including my Dad and his brothers Doug and Albert Mills. And my grandfather sacrificed so much, being a widower that watched his three boys go off to war. (That's my Dad and his brother Al to the right).
When I see how many good men died or were scarred for life from their experiences there, it amazes me that my Dad and his brothers all were able to make it home relatively unscathed.

As much as I'm thankful for their safe return, I'm grateful for their sacrifice and their service. My Dad was just a high school kid when he went off to war.  I can't imagine going off to a World War when I was that age. His brothers were not much older.

I'm glad that the cemetery where my Dad is buried does a nice job recognizing veterans and putting a flag by his stone. My Dad was proud of his service. And I'm proud of my Dad's service as well as that of my uncles. I wish I was able to go visit his grave today but will have to wait for the next time I'm at the coast.
I saw a story on the news the other day about the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln's speech talks about not letting the loss of life at Gettysburg to be in vain.

It made me think about the sacrifice and service of so many veterans, including my Dad and his brothers. (That's my Dad and his brother Doug in Kentucky to the left.)

 How do we truly honor what they have done for our country and our way of life? Do we serve and sacrifice for our country in similar ways?

Look at our country today. I don't even have to expand on the answer. It is shameful that this country has become what it has. Is this the kind of freedom people fought and died for? The bickering, the bipartisanship, the lack of care for doing what is best for our country and people, we're not uniting for the greater good. We spend too much time and energy trying to blame and hate the other side. Our energy is invested in making political points and gaining power instead of making us a better country and a better people.

 In many instances, but not all, we went to war to right a wrong. Our veterans served and died for something that was right. Are we striving to do what is right? Or are we more focused on what serves us best or feeds our wallets instead of our people.

People will tell you they "Support the troops" and they'll wave their flags and vow to never forget. But do they truly honor what our veterans did. Token propaganda and Facebook posts don't do it properly.

I will never serve in the military. I will never be able to sacrifice like my Dad and his brothers did. But I can honor them and their willingness by serving in my own way. I can feed off their bravery, their courage and their willingness to sacrifice for good.

I never talked with my Dad about it but I can imagine him saying to himself that he wanted to honor the memory of Bob Gough and his friend's sacrifice by living a life that would do that. My Dad ultimately did live a life of service, as a pastor, as a teacher and as a man of great strength and courage. I'm sure Bob Gough played a role in my Dad being the person that he became, and my Dad honored his memory as a result.

We can all serve. We can all sacrifice. We can all strive to do what is right in this world. We can all hope and work toward bettering our country. Those are my marching orders. I don't know all the ways I will and can make it happen, but I want my life and existence in this country to honor and reflect the bravery of the people that paved the way for me.

And someday, I hope people can be proud of my service.

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