by L. J. Martin
On this very special day, a day to remember all those who gave their all to see that the rest of us had an America to enjoy, I can’t help but think back on the uniforms that have passed through my life.
I was born about ten months before Pearl Harbor, so my early memories were at or near the end of that great war. Two things come to mind. The first is sitting on the floor in front of my two cousins, both of whom had braces on their legs, having been Marines who went ashore at Iwo Jima and having had their legs shot out from under them. Both very, very brave guys who laughed and joked as they waited for Sunday supper. The second memory from that very early time was boarding a train to make the long ride from Bakersfield, CA to Oklahoma City. My mother, brother, and I (at five or six years old) were making the trip to see my mom’s oldest brother and his wife. The train was full of soldiers returning from the war, and like my aunt’s living room with my cousins, the atmosphere was joyful. The war was over. My brother (four years older) and I had hauled a pile of comic books along, and when they were read I had my first business experience, re-selling them, for a profit, to all the soldiers and sailors on the train. They were happy to pay a quarter for a five cent comic book. I feel guilty now.
As it happened I was much to young to get called up for the Korean Conflict, and have little memory of it other than the conflict between President Truman and General MacArthur, and the horrific newsreel shots of Chinese streaming into Korea, blowing bugles as they overwhelmed our troops. None of my family was involved, so it seemed far, far away.
Next, when I was sixteen, my brother joined the Navy to become an aviator. He, like myself, was not a particularly good student in high school or junior college, however when he found something he really wanted to do, he shined so brightly that his grades at preflight school have NEVER been surpassed. I was particularly proud of his participation in the drill team, where flashing bayonets occasionally barked shins. He was assigned the Navy’s hottest airplane at the time, the F8U Crusader. Flying off the Ranger we were able to board for a family day and watch planes being launched and recovered. He dumped one in Asuka harbor, scaring my mother and I to death as he was missing for many hours before he was recovered in one of the Navy’s first night rescues. He was called on the carpet and grounded for having vertigo, until it was proven his instruments had failed, then he was given a commendation for his fast action in saving his life. He left the Navy, but still flies his own airplanes.
When Vietnam came along, my brother was out of the service and I had three kids. I was not called for a physical as a result of my being registered for the draft, and I didn’t call them to remind them. I did have a very good friend who flew the back seat of an Intruder, and went missing…until last year, when his plane was found in 20 feet of water. He was, like my brother, the best of America.
It was Desert Storm before I had another brush with uniforms. My No. 3 son, Matt, had joined the Marine Corp just in time to get out of boot camp and be among the first Marine platoons into Saudi, where he operated a computer directing the jump jets, and spent a year or more there. Kat and I spent that time glued to CNN and the war, and I had my first experience at being a parent with nothing to do but wait and worry. We did put together lots of boxes of goodies to send to the troops. He came home safely, and finished his education at the University of Santa Barbara, graduating with a degree in history.
Then my youngest son, Monty, joined the Navy. He went through boot camp in San Diego and was selected for the Navy League award, being chosen as the superior boot in his class of many hundreds. I was able to attend the ceremony where he was given the award, with four full captains presenting (one of which was his step-father), in front of many hundreds. He went on to corpsman school, then from there to lab tech school, and spent his tour of duty at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
If I sound as if I’m bursting with pride in my brother and my two sons who served, that’s an understatement. In fact, I’m bursting with pride for all of our young men and women who answered the call to duty.
Do I wish I’d served? Yes, I regret in many ways that time and circumstance seemed to keep me out of the service. I think it would have done me lots of good, as it did my brother and my two sons who did serve.
I am very proud of them and you, and your sons and daughters, and know that all of us, having served or not, would now pick up a firearm or a pitchfork or a rock to defend this great country of ours, anytime we felt her threatened. I would remind those who think we’re getting soft, that the largest armed force in the world is the American hunter and gun enthusiast. I hope they don’t forget that. I hope we don’t forget how important that is to our ongoing freedom.
God Bless America.