Bring a Veteran to School Day

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On Tuesday, November 11, 2014, we participated in Bring a Veteran to School Day.  B called each of his two grandfathers, invited them over and they were both pleasantly surprised and happy to come.  My dad is 45 minutes away; the hubs’ dad is an hour and a half away.  I had originally chosen an arrival time of 11am, so both could avoid rush hour traffic.  However, 2 days before I remembered the moment of silence at the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month and told the hubs I should move it up to 10:30am or 10:45am.  He said to leave it as is, and we’ll have our moment whenever they get here.

Around 10am, B and I visited a neighbor who is retired from the Marine Corps.  B shook his hand, thanked him for his service and gave him some cookies and a homemade poppy. That afternoon, the neighbor gave B a Dinar as a thank you gift for the cookies, poppy and appreciation.  B ran into the house to show me and he was so excited!

My dad arrived a little before 11am and my FIL arrived a little after.  My FIL brought B a picture of the trainer airplane that he flew in flight school in Pensacola, a T-28!  To start our little “program”, I announced that we were going to step out onto the front stoop, face the flag over the front door and say The Pledge of Allegiance.  My FIL said, “I’m Quaker.  Quakers don’t pledge to anyone or anything.”  What an amazing life lesson he presented to us!  The I’m offended/political correctness issue is so hotly debated in this country, and with the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa season just around the corner, it’s going to get hotter.  The hubs replied, “That’s alright.  You can still come outside with us and stand in silence while we pledge.”  After they left, I had a discussion with B that how daddy replied is what is great about this country.  We wanted to pledge, so we did.  Grandad didn’t want to pledge so he didn’t.  We all did what we wanted to do.  We did not tell him he had to pledge; we did not skip the pledge all together because he didn’t want to do it.  :o)  After the pledge, the hubs called for a moment of silence to honor those who had given the ultimate sacrifice in service to their countries.

We came back inside and settled the grandads in chairs next to each other.  The hubs, as our school principal, officially welcomed our vets to our school and read this poem about Veterans Day.  Then I got up and read John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields while B handed out a homemade poppy to each of his grandads.  The poppy means a lot to my dad and he was so happy to receive one.  He said he will treasure it.  We all sat down and I told our vets the reason we wanted to bring them here was so that we can honor them, thank them and, most importantly, hear their stories.  B wanted to know what it was like and hear their individual experiences.  He had a list of questions:

When & why did you join the Navy/Army?

What is the primary role of that branch of the military?

What was boot camp like?

Where did you go after boot camp and what were your responsibilities?

How did actually being in the Navy/Army compare to your expectations before you joined?

How did you stay in touch with your family?

What was the food like?

Did you have a best friend?  Did you stay in touch after you got out?

What is your most memorable experience?

Do you remember any funny or unusual experiences?

How did your service in the Navy/Army affect your life – positively and negatively?

Would you do it again?  Anything you wish you had done or handled differently?

Some questions B asked, some questions his grandads answered as they were talking.  B starting by asking my FIL the first question – When and why did you join the Navy? – and after he answered that question, B was going to ask my dad the same question and go back and forth down the list.  However, the conversation that followed was much more organic.  After answering that 1st question with a huge shock to us, he just kept talking.  My FIL is very sweet and has a sense of humor.  But he is a quiet man; doesn’t speak too much when I’m around him.  I think he said more in the 2+ hours he was here than I heard him speak in the last 19 years.  ;o)  He shocked us by answering B’s 1st question with, “I didn’t join the Navy; I was drafted.”  None of us, not even the hubs, knew that!

We talked in the living room for over an hour and continued to talk over lunch in the kitchen (B asked me to make Chicken Tortilla Soup and My Southwestern Cornbread and the 3 of us made Spicy Molasses Cookies for dessert).  We all learned a lot about our dads/grandads that we never knew and my FIL’s experience as an officer and pilot in the Navy was completely different from my dad’s as a soldier in the Army.  Somethings were the same, though, and when one of them was talking, occasionally the other nodded along and chimed in with a, “you’re right”, a laugh or a shake of the head.

When my FIL graduated from high school, the draft was still in place due to the Korean War.  His draft was deferred because he was accepted to college, but they called him up as soon as he graduated.  The Army had been scooping up all the college graduates so the Navy stepped in and took my FIL and some other college graduates who were there that day.  Boot camp was no big deal to my FIL.  He was 23 when he entered the Navy, older than most, and he never took the yelling and attitudes of drill sergeants and superiors personally.  He mentioned one particular drill sergeant who was a second year.  My FIL told him, “Just remember – when boot camp is over, I’m going to be an officer and outrank you.  I’ll expect you to treat me as such.”  After boot camp he was stationed in a few places in Maryland and his stories of his lucky jobs were so fun to hear!  Then he was asked if he wanted to go to flight school in Pensacola.  Um…YEAH!  He said he was lucky; they were treated like royalty, compared to what those who were shipped out.  They had servants who cleaned, did the laundry and cooked.  Once he’d completed flight school, he still owned the Navy 2 years of service.  However, the Korean War was over.  He and the other guys in his training were pulled into a room and told that their contracts were being changed from 2 years to 6 years.  If they were not going to accept the new 6 year contract, they had to pack their bags and leave the Navy that day.  He said they all pulled out quarters and started flipping coins – should I stay or go?  LOL  Most of them left.

As a 17 yr old high school senior from a humble family, my dad knew the only way he was getting a college education was to join the Army and take advantage of the G.I. Bill when he got out.  He told his 2 best friends his plan and they said they should all enlist together, but go into the Navy, not the Army.  My dad was a pale redhead, barely 100 lbs soaking wet, the class clown and he didn’t know how to swim.  Plus, you only had to give the Army 3 years but the Navy got 4 years.  He just couldn’t join the Navy!  But his friends talked him into it.  The Navy had a buddy program and they guaranteed you’d stay together after boot camp.  They all made an appointment with the Navy recruitment office and were going to meet there to enlist.  He was the first to arrive and the recruiter got him started on paperwork.  Before signing, my dad said he wanted to wait for his friends but the recruiter said, “They’re coming. Let’s get you all signed up and then we’ll do them when they get here.”  His friends never showed and my dad had signed on the bottom line.  One buddy’s parents said he was not enlisting, he was going to college and the other buddy decided to be a police officer.  But neither had the guts to tell my dad before he enlisted in a branch of the service that terrified him.  >:o(  (That last sentence is all my words and feelings, not my dad’s.)

The closer he got to high school graduation, the more worried he was, so he went to the local Army recruiting station, told the recruiter what happened and that he really wanted to join the Army, was there anything he can do?  The recruiter took his name and number and said he’d be in touch.  Two and a half weeks before graduation, the recruiter told him he’d taken care of it, my dad was out of his Navy contract and he needed to come down and sign his Army one.  My dad was so relieved!  He has no idea how the recruiter did it because he didn’t ask.  When he signed up, he told the recruiter he was really interested in accounting and would like a job in that field with the Army if possible.  My dad turned 18 on graduation day and was on a bus to boot camp the next day.

As my dad described his experience at boot camp, it reminded me so much of my own experience in culinary arts school!  He said he never knew how sheltered he was until he went into the Army.  There were some really good people there and there were some really terrible people there.  He, like me, was sensitive, and it was hard to be on the receiving end of the drill sergeants.  When boot camp was over, 90% of the men were shipped off to Vietnam and my dad expected to be one of them.  He was surprised when he was sent to Indianapolis, instead, to attend finance school.  He assumed it was the doing of the Army recruiter who had gotten him out of the Navy contract.  Many, many years later, he found out it was the 1st of 2 times that his older brother saved his life.

My dad was eventually shipped out on a troop boat from California to Korea.  My dad served his tour in the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone).  He shared very vivid memories of good times and bad times over there, and the hubs had to bring tissues to the kitchen table for us.  In fact, just thinking about it now, I need to go get some tissues.  Excuse me.

After his tour in Korea, my dad came home and his service was over.  His oldest brother, C (who is also my godfather), was an Army man and stayed in until retirement.  Sometime after Uncle C retired, he and my dad were talking about their service and my dad found out why he’d never been sent to Vietnam.  My Uncle C did 3 tours in Vietnam.  He was, in fact, there when my dad exited with boot camp.  Therefore, because of the Sole Survivor Policy (a lot of civilians call it the Saving Private Ryan rule) my dad was sent to finance school, instead.  When he finished with school, Uncle C was still in Vietnam so my dad was sent to Korea.  My Uncle C never told his parents that he was in Vietnam until after all of his tours were over.  He didn’t want them to worry, so he told them he was in The Philippines and Korea.  Any mail sent or received involved an APO or FPO address, so my Nana & Papa never knew and neither did my dad.

Both my dad and my FIL are glad they served.  They both met their wives through a service buddy.  My FIL never would have learned to fly if not for the Navy, and he became a member of the Civil Air Patrol after getting out.  Flying was his happy place.  My dad knows he never would have gotten a college degree if not for the Army.  And, with the exception of a couple of odd jobs in college, the Department of Defense has been my dad’s sole employer as an adult – first as a soldier and then as a civilian employee after graduating from college (thanks to the G.I. Bill).  They were both so happy they had come, more so (if that’s possible) than the hubs, B and I were to have them and listen to them!  They enjoyed reminiscing individually and together and I think they are closer now.

I am so glad we did this!  My dad thanked us several times before he left and my mom called me later that day to thank me, as well.  She said my dad had such a great time and was so proud to show off his poppy.  The hubs thanked B and me for putting this together and he feels so blessed to have been present.  I encourage everyone to do this, at least once.  It was amazing to get to know who these men were before they were husbands and fathers, and hear about a way of life that neither one of us chose.  If you don’t have living family members who served, you can go to Veterans.com for resources to assist you with finding local veterans and how to host your own Bring a Veteran to School Day.

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