Veteran Advice

I always looked up to my dad, and even now as an old fart myself I aspire to be more like him. When others in a quandary might wonder, “What would Jesus do?”,  I’m more prone to wonder, “What would Lloyd do?”

Roll back the clock. I’ve just turned 18, and the Vietnam war and anti-war protests are both escalating in the month before the Kent State shootings, and I’m already feeling blown away. Still, you could excuse yourself from high school to sign up for the draft, so I enlisted a carful of buddies to accompany me to the draft board, where two or three of us faced the same obligation.

On the registration slip, there was a box to check Conscientious Objector. I did so and turned in my slip.

My dad’s WWII campaign medal.

That night at dinner, I told Lloyd about the experience, and the proud WWII veteran and VFW member with an older son who’d enlisted right out of high school could not have been more understanding or  sympathetic toward his younger son. Yet, while hardly missing a beat between bites of meat loaf and mashed potatoes, he advised me to reconsider my action.

“No one WANTS to get drafted,” he said at the time, “and I’m the last guy that wants to see you go off to war. But you’ll never meet their standard as a conscientious objector, and if you don’t go they’ll throw you in jail, so you  should just be a man and take your chances like every other guy in the country your age.”

“But I don’t believe in war. Or killing,” I said as a pat answer.

“No one does,” he said, “but sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do.”

The next day, I went back and withdrew my objector status. I wound up with a draft number well over 200 and never even got called in for a physical while attending college on a student deferment. But the registration thing and my dad’s measured response left a big impression on me. I took part in a few protest rallies   in college, but I never measured up to being an anti-war activist any more than I measured up as a soldier.

“Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do.”

My big brother Skip, No. 2 in line behind our dad as my role models,  served his Navy hitch as a yeoman at the fleet supply center in Sasebo, Japan, and didn’t have to set foot in Vietnam.   With money from the G.I. Bill, he went to broadcasting school and achieved early ambitions to become a disc jockey, and I always envied the veteran link that he shared with Pop.

Lloyd was drafted into WWII and observed his 32nd  birthday on a troop train heading for Camp Claibourne in Louisiana. Within a few weeks, he was  overseas  with the 344th Engineering Regiment and spent the next 38 months as a carpentry specialist and occasional combat engineer in England, North Africa, Italy, France, Germany and Austria. The war in Europe ended on his 35th birthday, and that was probably the best birthday present he ever got, until my brother was born two years later on the same date.

My dad would be 102 years old if he were still alive today, and I’m now “older” than Skip, who died in 2005.  I think of them often with great pride, but I’m particularly mindful on their birthday every  May 8 and on Veterans Day.

3 Comments

Filed under Memoirs

3 responses to “Veteran Advice

  1. Michelle Bernath

    Keith, this one moved me to tears. Thank you for sharing your stories, this one in particular.

  2. God Bless America. And Coffee 🙂 Thank you to all the veterans and their selfless sacrifices. Amen.

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