War is hell in the field and on the sidelines | TahoeDailyTribune.com

War is hell in the field and on the sidelines

War has been kind to my family and friends inasmuch as no one has died in the past few generations.

A great-uncle who was an Air Force pilot lived to tell about the horrors of being a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II.

My favorite great-uncle, Dan, was a Seabee in the Pacific. His oldest daughter had to get acquainted with him when she was a toddler because the war kept him from home.

Uncle Sig was also fighting in the Pacific. Uncle Jimmy was in the Army in WWII, as was Uncle Bubby who was in the Philippines.

My dad thought about joining the military during the Korean War. He graduated from high school in 1953, the same year the conflict ended. He never asked for a draft deferral. It was his mother who insisted he go to college.

He always wanted to be a pilot. Years later he got his private pilot’s license, but he didn’t enjoy the slow single-engine planes. To this day he still wants to have the throttle of a jet in his hands.

At the time he had to register with the Selective Service, all the 18-year-olds had to have a physical. Then the young men were given a letter rating. Dad received the highest — an A. It gradually dropped when he got married and started a family.

I was just a tyke during the Vietnam debacle. As an adult I have met plenty of people who did their time in the rice fields. It’s not something my friends talk about.

I had a boyfriend who joined the Navy in 1973. As a submariner he has some harrowing stories to tell from the Cold War era.

I know people who were in the military during the Gulf War, but they were not part of the fighting.

Last week I got word that my cousin has received orders for active duty. He had been in active duty as a naval pilot out of college, served his time and then joined the reserves. He left for Saudi Arabia yesterday.

He’s my age. He has a wife, two young kids, a job as a vice principal at a high school outside of Phoenix. His orders are for a year.

I try to put myself in his shoes, but will never be able to. I have only had fleeting thoughts of joining the military. Naval intelligence is what I was interested in. But I have this problem with authority so I know I would not have made it through boot camp without having told a sergeant or two exactly what I thought.

I try to put myself in his wife’s shoes. I can’t. My imagination can’t even go there.

Another cousin is more fortunate. Her husband returns from Bosnia in March. Whatever happens in the rest of world should not affect his homecoming with his Guard unit.

My soon-to-be 21-year-old nephew is in the Air National Guard in Minnesota. So far his unit is sticking to its scheduled training and not heading for the Middle East.

I worry most about my 19-year-old nephew who just joined the Army Reserves. He could head to South Carolina next week for basic training. He’ll be there three to four months. If the Gulf War is any indication of what the next sparring contest with Iraq will be like, it could be over before he returns from the South.

It’s not that I think he will partake in the forthcoming hostilities, it’s the ones that are not even on the radar screen that concern me.

The lure of cash to buy a new car and having his education paid for got him to sign up. Later he mentioned something about the military being a place where he could learn more about himself, to mature a bit.

He is an ardent supporter of George W. Bush, much like his parents.

When I was talking with my nephew last week he started out gung-ho about the U.S. going to war with Iraq, then as the conversation went on, he backed down a bit and began to question if the president is taking this a little too far.

It’s that waffling attitude that worries me about Christopher. I know it’s the 19-year-olds who are strong and brave. But who of us at 19 really could see the big picture? Who of us wasn’t easily influenced by our parents, the latest class lecture, what we saw on TV, or read in the paper? Were our cognitive thinking skills developed all that well?

I can only hope the officers in the field and behind the desks have enough common sense to do what is right when they order my family members and yours into battle. I hope what they ask of these young men and women is no different than what they would ask of their own sons and daughters.

I’m not ready to go to a funeral.

— Kathryn Reed is managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. She may reached via e-mail at kreed@tahoedailytribune.com or (530)541-3880, ext. 251.

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