Thursday, October 04, 2007

de Officiis

I chose the title "de Officiis" of Marcus Tullius Cicero work for the very interpretation "On Duty" suggests the virtue that transcends history.
Generally, I avoid what could be interpreted as jingoism of the reactionaries or people thriving on a past that has developed into more of a pageant the greater they lived from it. I often equate it to the 50 year old ex-high-school jock critiquing this year's Homecoming Game. So to give fair homage to those currently serving this country, I'm only offering a point of reference from my own experience lest it ever be found exaggerated.
I guess being a World War II baby it's only reasonable to think back from time to time on the images I have of those times; tagging along with my mother as she turned in bacon-fat for coupons, the town sirens for air-raid drills, remembering in prayers an uncle in a submarine, cousins also on fronts; land, sea and air, "Buddy" down the street who was a Marine in the Pacific. It was a dramatic time in the eyes of a little boy whose first five years would parallel the greatest war in history. For the more mature it provided moments of trauma, fear and anxiety.
My brother was building models of Mustangs, got a letter from "Ike", and, with a friend created my 'Jeep' (Pictured). He'd take me on the handle-bars of his bike down the road to a railroad bridge to see the flat-cars of tanks to be boarded on ships in Boston. The songs supporting our soldiers filled the kitchen as my brother and my sister did the dishes after dinner. Both would serve in uniform later in their lives. I guess that type of experience, with the examples of those who've preceded me in life, set standards for me, "Duty to God and Country", motivates me still. And I don't blush over it.
Raised in a community where college education followed immediately as a natural course of events, wherein draft deferments provided for that routine; a step off that tread made for easy pickings for the "Draft Board". Much had happened in my mid-teens; premature deaths of my parents, siblings developing their own families, and my own hesitancy to settle upon a decision for my future, always and easily distracted.
The constant was the anticipation that I would, in time, serve my country. Very simple - a core value. I enlisted in the Regular Army in 1962; Laos was in the news, eventually to be followed by the Cuban Crisis. I was fortunately selected for the then Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) (later changed to MI) (just like that big brother was 10 years earlier). It set in motion for me many interests that abide with me to this day; (frankly exceeding in involvement my earlier duties). Being (reportedly) the youngest in 62 to get credentials, I was assigned, and took advantage of, some unique experiences. (Enough. We're all - even a little - legends in our own minds.) (My fellow agents used to say it was to keep me out of their way.)
Over years since my regular and further reserve service, many young men and women have been called, and responded to serve in circumstances much nastier than I had (in my suit and rep tie). Some, like myself, stayed close to the intelligence field through organizations that are short of being official; avocational might best describe them.
Too many of our best have died, suffered maiming and injuries to body and emotions. And many, too, have within the experience of duty, found a calling which they've extended with great integrity. For those I still stand in awe. Most people really don't know the discipline within such a community. As this part reflects on those who re-up, Like others, I watch and feel the contempt that some heap upon those youngsters from our communities for the sake of political advantage, comparative ego enhancing, moral equivalency in self-justifications and ozone-based status. It embarrasses me and hurts me at the same time.
The embarrassment stems from how my fellow citizens dispose themselves to those serving. The hurt is different. It's how I wish I could absorb it from the feelings of those serving. It's almost like feeling inadequate and not sharing more of their load. Why would any American feel otherwise?
I must add that this was motivated by a guy who emailed me. He's served his time, and continues serving "I missed the camaraderie .." he wrote. I am humbled by him. Let's call him Barry.


Michelle said...

Very interesting story! Thank you.

Shawmut said...

Thanks, Michelle. There is a modification that deserves to be seen. "I missed the camaraderie.." a fine guy wrote. We'll call him, Barry.

airforcewife said...

The comraderie, indeed. I don't know if I would call it comraderie, exactly - although it most definately is.

I think the best way I've ever heard to explain it is that there's a feeling of being a part of something greater than oneself and of making a visible difference in the world. Of the hardships that being a military person/family cause, that feeling that it is all worth it somehow is greater. And the sense of pride and accomplishment that come along with having been able to do something so difficult is immense.

The greatest thing that isn't understood by the "waste in Iraq" people and those who say they support the troops by wanting them to come home is exactly that the hardships mil-folk go through are bearable only because we feel that it is worth it. By using those silly semantic games they take away our pride, and our pride is the only thing we have that keeps us going.

It is something that only someone who has been there would understand, though. And most of them nowadays haven't been there.