Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day, 2013

This year, I have 2 vets to remember.

The first, my dad, was in WWII.  He served in the artillery, which likely contributed to the major hearing loss he suffered from in his senior years.  Even when younger, he consistently turned the TV to a fairly loud setting.

I've spent some time looking into his service - apparently, his unit was moved around a bit, and the command changed several times.  He did serve in the Battle of the Bulge.  He told my mother (she later told me) that he had seen some of the survivors of the concentration camps; it so haunted him that he buried the memory for years.

He mostly told funny stories of his time in the war:

  • Cutting across a minefield to avoid being late for dinner

  • Coming across a barn with SS uniforms left behind.  He and his buddy tried them on, and admired their panache.  He almost got shot by another soldier who saw the uniform - fortunately, the other soldier fooling around was his buddy, Red, and the hair made the soldier hesitate in pulling the trigger.

  • He had little to say that was good about the French - he thought them crude and vulgar.  He did admire the German people - even after bombing, the housewives would rise in the morning and sweep the steps, walk, and street.

So, the sanitized version of war that I received was not unlike that of many other children.  Later, in school and in photomagazines, we saw some of the more grim facets (although in black and white).

My dad died after a long, and largely successful battle with cancer.  At 60, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer - that type usually kills within a short time.  He elected to try an experimental surgery, and survived another 16 years.

Dad was affected by his service, but was able to re-build his life after the war.  He married, raised a family, and enjoyed a wide circle of long-time friends.

My brother's war was one that was televised - the Vietnam War.  He was not a combat soldier, but repaired the mobile communications equipment.  However, he did serve in a combat zone, and saw and experienced much of the stress that comes with war zones.

Like my dad, he didn't talk much about the war, other than a few funny stories.  Like my dad, he didn't join the VFW.  Instead, he found a job, and tried to blend into society.

He was partly successful, for a time.  He functioned, although he never married or had children.  He had one long-time girlfriend; after they broke up, she married someone else.  To my knowledge, he never had another serious relationship.

Fairly early on, he started drinking.  For a long time, he kept his consumption manageable - going to bed with a buzz on, saving the major drinking for the weekends.  Over time, it accelerated.

After a major life crisis (his best friend died), he started deteriorating.  He eventually lost his job, his house, and what life he had.  He started living on the streets.

He was on the streets for about 10 years.  Some of that time, he'd find a temporary place to live - a shelter, a few days with an acquaintance, or he would talk his way into staying with a family member.

My brother and sister took the brunt of the work of dealing with his alcoholism.  They fed him, sometimes housed him, and, when they could no longer live with the chaos his presence caused, made the decision to ban him from living with them.

It had to be hard to watch my brother destroy any hope of a life.  He would show up at their door, dirty, hungry, and confused.  Sometimes, they would let him in for a shower and a meal.

He bounced around for many years.  As soon as he got access to money, he spent it on booze - one major reason that I WON'T give money to bums.  The VA was helpful, and he went to rehab multiple times - always returning to his ways after checking out.

Just before he died, he was assisted in getting into an apartment.  For years, every winter, I worried about him freezing to death in the streets.  He was just 63 when he died.

There are too many vets like my brother, who just never manage to get back to a normal life after service.  I can't fault the VA, who did all that they could to help him recover.

In his case, isolation was a major factor.   He was a man with few friends, even before the war.  He lacked many of the social ties that anchor men, and help them adjust.  He was an introvert, a loner, and a man who used alcohol to ease him into social situations.  With booze, he could talk freely with women (not QUITE as bad as Raj on The Big Bang Theory, but close).

He liked children well enough, at a distance.  He didn't want children, his own or otherwise, and that had to limit his potential female partners.  He didn't date women with children.

In some ways, he was a throwback.  Loners were common enough in the early days of the United States.  Being disinclined to socialize was not that unusual, particularly in the more isolated frontier or the mountains.

His burial, at the Western Reserve National Cemetery, was beautifully done.  By his choice, he was cremated, and the urn was to be placed in a setting with his fellow soldiers.  The people at the cemetery spoke about him and his service, and he received an honor guard volley.

After the service, we went back to my sister's house, and dealt with the paperwork and talked.  One VERY funny moment occurred when we had to decide what inscription/symbol to put on his marker.  The inscription was easy, but the symbol was tough.

Mary and I wanted this - as a SERIOUS Star Trek nut, Mike would have LOVED it.








Ron talked us out of it - after a LOT of discussion. We decided on an eagle.

Still, I know that Mike would have preferred the "Live Long and Prosper" symbol.

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