I missed going to war
by L. Stewart Marsden
When I was a kid all of us in the neighborhood used to dress up in full military regalia, with our Mattel burp guns and grenades and canteens — all plastic — and dash over to Mrs. Foye’s yard — a veritable jungle of ivy, vines, and close-bunched trees.
We called it Guadalcanal.
Magnolia trees provided grenade-like seeds where we bit off the stem and hurled the make-believe bombs of destruction at each other. They really only hurt if they struck bare skin — but even then the wounded victim choked it back with incredible valor.
John Wayne in Pork Chop Hill. And a dozen other films that raised war far above its reality.
I was literally weaned on WWII. My dad played the classic music score Victory At Sea at full volume until its grand swelling sound had found a permanent place in my frontal lobe.
The coffee table book of World War II by Life magazine was well worn by me. It was surreal to look at the pictures of soldiers and civilians ripped apart — exposed in death — by the split-second shutter of an alert cameraman.
The flag raising at Iwo Jima.
The American soldier about to be beheaded by a sword-bearing Japanese officer.
Stark in and unto themselves, yet still not horrendous to a pre-teen whose immediate future held no real threat of being inducted into military servitude.
A war that escaped me when I was in high school. Prep school, really. In the secluded hills and valleys of pristine Virginia, near Cul-peppah.
I was part of a slug of possible recruits who would not likely see action unless one of the military academies was one of the goals. Believe me, a military academy was NOT one of my goals.
The closest I came to the edge of the cliff was in college, when the government instituted a draft because there was a great deal of ire over the privileged few being able to avoid military service.
It was my sophomore year.
The night of the draft I went to my fraternity and got drunk. My dad called me the next day with the good news that my number was relatively high, and I didn’t have to worry.
One of my pledge brothers did have to worry. His GPA because of pledging was below a 1.0. Plus, he got blackballed on Hell Night. He was very tall and gangly and goofy. I have not googled to see if he was a casualty.
So I missed going to Viet Nam.
It was so surreal. Students that were protesting hated Viet Nam vets. Those guys came home to despicable reactions from my peers. It was shameful. Forrest Gump didn’t begin to tell the story.
In 1980 I had my gall bladder taken out. The damn organ was so shrunken and full of stones that the surgeon had to slice through half my stomach and dig under my liver to find the decaying thing.
Oh, but the scar! It looked as though I had taken a hit in the stomach. God, no one would know the difference, I used to think as I bore that scar proudly on the beach.
I was the right age — almost. Who would know the difference? But I never told anyone I was a vet. I really wanted to.
9-1-1, Afghanistan and Iraq
First protest rally I ever participated in was when George senior sent troops into Iraq. I was in Durham, and being in the rally took me back to my college days — when I was confused about the convergence of Viet Nam, Civil Rights and Women’s Rights. This time there was clarity. American boys were going to die. And why? I thought. Oil.
At 9-1-1 I was one of many millions who was glued to the TV, watching two jet airliners explode into the Twin Towers in New York City.
And then the second Bush reaction in slo-mo, it seemed to me. Shock and Awe was not a relief as I watched us switch gears from Osama Bin Laden to Iraq and the elusive weapons of mass destruction.
Send the troops in. Watch the film and hear about the boys dying. Listen to the rhetoric — political and other — vouching for the action.
I know of some of the men who went to war. One, the husband of a young woman who used to date my son. He lost a leg. Just one of many who was lucky enough to return to the states alive.
I don’t know how to feel. The sentiment for returning soldiers is 180 degrees from that of returning Viet Nam vets. Now, we herald soldiers who served in various wars, from the Greatest Generation, who fought in a world war and in Korea, to those who have served since.
I missed out. My scar is that of a botched gall bladder surgery and nothing more.
War — ungh — Good God! What is it good for?
So I’ve watched war occur before me and after me. Never during me. Meaning, I wasn’t on the ground. I wasn’t in harm’s way.
Not sure you can glorify it. War.
You can attest to bravery and the heroes whose acts are beyond the call of duty. You can pretend that war — in whatever theater — has saved the lives of MILLIONS of others.
Not sure about that.
Walt Whitman, noted for his work of poetry, and especially Leaves of Grass, served as a nurse during the Civil War until the oppressive nature of carnage overcame his ability to endure it.
I think I will continue to write about life and love and war and peace — and the small things that add up to a whole.
By happen-chance I was a Tweener. I missed going to war. But not really.