I come from a long line of military men and women. They and I were proud to serve our country in almost every single war since the American Revolution. I even do VA advocacy work as a volunteer for other vets. I am not ashamed in any way of the large majority of serving men and women. However, I am totally disgusted with how our government, who is, after all, our representative, has treated and continues to treat those who’ve devoted their lives to military service in one way or another. The fact that at least 40% of our enlisted families rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aka Food Stamps is, quite frankly shameful to all of us. Yes, we have a “poverty draft”, but should they stay in poverty whilst in the services?
We won’t go into that yet though as this 3 part diary is dedicated to the people and people like them, portrayed herein. I have had to change names and give fuzzy dates (like Fall 67) to protect the veterans or their families. If you are really interested in particulars for a valid reason, please post a comment for me. And we’re off to War #1
Some of my family members joke that our family “invented” the poverty draft because my father and two of his brothers enlisted prior to WWII and none of them were of age to be in the Army. They did it because there were 12 children at home and no father at the height of the Depression. Fact is, my father was somewhere between 13 and 14yrs old when they did this. He wasn’t even eligible for the driver’s license he needed to drive the truck they set him to driving. Someone finally figured out that the “triplets” weren’t and got their real ages. They were sent home quick!
WWII started pretty soon after that and so the older ones went in legitimately and my father waited a semester or so and joined as soon as they lowered the age limit. He was in the Army, the Army Air Corps, and, after 1947, the US Air Force. He served in the European Theater, North Africa, and then a bit in the Pacific. He never talked about it but gave me the map of Paris they got so they’d know where to go in to liberate it. One day I hope to be able to go and visit the sites he marked. He also gave me his Argus camera and all of the slides and photos he’d taken over there in the camps for my Senior German Language project. Other than that, silence. After seeing those pictures, I understood the silence.
Korea lit up and off he went again. By this time he was one of the best fighter pilots in the USAF. One problem, there were too few planes, so they double teamed the jets and on his off days he drove a “meat wagon” aka ambulance. Two years in Korea and he came back to be a test pilot, then a squadron commander. He was on temporary duty as a “hotseat”, sitting in his jet, ready to take off, just in case, stationed at a Floridian base, when everything went to hell in the Bay of Pigs debacle. He was hotseat again in Europe when the Berlin Wall went up and barely made it home from that for my birth. Then he left for Vietnam, the first time. He was back for the Cuban missile crisis and Christmas. Then he went back to Vietnam. He came home in summer 1964. He left again for Vietnam in Fall 1967. Mind you, you only had to do ONE one year tour during Vietnam, he went for 3 because you got $65.00 a month extra for combat pay and he now had 5 kids and a wife. He was shot down. The location on his records is redacted. He was filed MIA and we feared the worst. Then, 9 months later, he walked out of the jungle and they sent him home to become an instructor. He hated it, not enough flight time. That and he had problems with the “college boys” who’d promoted above him, were younger and didn’t have the experience. And, as a “mustang” (former enlisted made officer) he didn’t abide BS. So, he was a major 3 times. He was still a major when he went before a medical board and they decided he needed to retire.
Here’s the crime, courtesy of Uncle Sam: In those days, you had to have had your rank for 365 days consecutively. Being a major would mean a significantly larger retirement pension. And he still had kids at home. But, the medical board cut his orders so that he would be retired 3 days short of the 365 as a major. This meant he got a captain’s retirement pay. And now to twist this knife, USAF gave him a copy of all of his orders over the 25+ years of service. That’s when he found out that they had already cut his funeral orders because that meant that they could pay my mother less. He never flew again, though he remained a proud veteran for the rest of his short life.