Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Reflections on Veterans Day

It's Veteran's Day today, as everyone knows.  By some miracle the house is kind of quiet and "Saving Private Ryan" is on for an afternoon showing on AMC.  For some reason it is being shown from 1-4 p.m. instead of during prime time viewing with limited commercial interruption like it should be on Veteran's Day.  This evening they are showing both Karate Kid movies.  Huh?  "Saving Private Ryan" is one of my favorite movies that I could watch again and again.  It is kind of an odd addition to my list which mostly includes National Lampoon movies and 1990's/early 2000's high school movies.  If I could choose any movie that I would be proud to have been part of it would be this one.  Although, there isn't a single female in the cast except for Mrs. Ryan who doesn't have any lines and is only onscreen for about one minute (although it is a powerful scene at the Ryan farm in Iowa and the I can easily imagine the scene unfolding in the farmhouse I grew up in) and the secretaries in the typing room at the beginning. Right now it is the "calm before the storm" scene where the soldiers have found Ryan and they are in the ruined city of Romelle waiting for the battle to start where Ryan conjures the memory of his lost brothers and Tom Hanks' hand shakes in anticipation of what is coming. Very dramatic scene.

Today social media is filled with people paying tribute to the veterans of all ages in their families.  I'm not from a military family so all of the veterans I would honor served a long time ago.  My grandpa on my mom's side was a veteran of WWII.  He was still in high school when it started but served toward the end and my other grandfather was 14 when it ended so he didn't serve. Justin and I both have uncles and great uncles who served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.  On my side, our family's only casualty of war was my grandma's brother who died in the early days of Vietnam.  The family got word while my grandma was in the hospital giving birth to my aunt and they kept the information from her as long as they could.  

When I first started realizing the implications of war as a young student I was and still am moved by the patriotism and courage of the young people of the past.  They enlisted in masses to fight in WWII and they were barely older than I was..  I couldn't help but imagine the people I was in school with as soldiers and it made us all seem really privileged and safe.  I recall my social studies teacher giving the boys in the class the talk about how they had to sigh up for the selective service at the post office when they had their 18th birthday and it seemed outlandish that the country would have to resort to that ever again.  Well, that was 1999 and we all know what happened two years later which made the draft seem less of a relic of the past and more of a possibility.  Fortunately, I don't think it will happen and now...we are too old!  I looked it up a few months ago because something I saw on TV reminded me of it and I asked Justin if he was too old for the draft and he said he didn't know so I looked it up.  They answer is yes, unless there is another catastrophic world war where all the men in their 20s' and late teens are being used they could call people in their 30's.  But probably not.  And they start with 20 year olds.  I was looking at WWII statistics just a moment ago and more 20 year olds were killed in the war than any other age by far.  According to my random Google source, 14,095 twenty year olds died and only (ONLY...I use that word not to diminish their importance) 9,705 twenty-one year olds and 8,283 nineteen year olds died.  It must have been an unsettling time to be a 20 year old American. 

Anyway, today is a good day to think about such things because making that sacrifice is serious business.  What would have happened if tyranny (Hitler) won?  Thinking about all of his crazy ideas coming true is like imagining a horrifying post-apocalyptic movie plot.  The WWII veterans are diminishing in numbers at a very fast rate and the Vietnam guys are now becoming the old guys who fire the guns at funerals and march in parades to represent the Legion posts. While many of them shared their experiences and many stories are recorded to teach future generations not to repeat the mistakes of the past (it's why we learn history in school, for all of those unenthusiastic students who ask why they have to learn this!) I have to wonder about the things they didn't every tell anyone about.  Thinking of them makes me feel kind of inadequate, like I could do more for others to benefit society to pay forward what they've given me but I don't know what would be enough. Nothing really compares.  And in that thought, I include not just men who fought but women who were "picking up the slack" at home, raising families alone, working in jobs they never imagined doing and making the best out of rationed goods.  It seems that they were a different breed and that a woman my age in those years was so much more of an adult than I am now.

Oooh...the scene at the end where the planes fly in and save the day just before Tom Hanks gets blasted by a tank is happening...goosebumps all over!

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