Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Third War

I flew it again today. The flag. The Stars and Stripes. I felt a need to. More later...

It was several years ago that my Mom, then a century alive, said to me, "Do you know how much war I've seen in my lifetime? That's all I've seen is war."

The Great War. World War II. Korea. Vietnam. Gulf War I. Agfhanistan. Iraq. And those are just the ones the USA has had a big part of. Dad died in '89. Gulf War I, Afghanistan and Iraq have all happened since he died. And they aren't over yet.

Today, 40 years ago, I woke up very early, shaved, put on a clean shirt and jeans. I put a change of underwear and a pair of socks along with my shaving kit in the little gym bag I hadn't used since high school. After breakfast, while it was still dark, Mom, Dad and I drove to Omaha. There on the street, we said goodbye; and they drove away in the 1962 Ford Galaxie 500. I opened the door, went inside and climbed the stairs of the Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station (AFEES).

At the AFEES, I underwent yet another physical examination that confirmed what the previous physical in March of 1969 had determined: I was still fit to be classified I-A. Mid-morning, with our clothes back on, a bunch of us were herded into a room with the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the State of Nebraska, and the flags of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. A Marine Sergeant strode briskly into the room, ordered us to stand at attention in two lines and raise our right hands. "Repeat after me," he said, "I, state your full name, do solemnly swear. . ."

"Congratulations," he said when we had finished. "You are all official members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America." Four years of active military service had begun. After waiting around all afternoon, we at last boarded a bus for Eppley Field, Omaha's airport, where my fellow airmen recruits and I boarded a flight for Dallas where we changed planes and flew on to San Antonio.
Before leaving the AFEES in Omaha, however, we had time to kill. Some guys watched TV. I tried not to think. A Salvation Army chaplain brought each of us a little gift box of toiletries and a small Bible: New Testament/Psalms/Proverbs. I still have it.

About the exact same time 1500 miles away, Richie Havens was limping off the outdoor stage still strumming his guitar and singing "Freedom, freedom, freedom, yeah, yeah, yeah..." He ad libbed the melody and lyrics to the song on stage. He had never sung it before. He had sung every song he knew and could remember in over 3 hours on stage. None of the other performers had yet arrived at Woodstock.

I didn't even know or hear about Woodstock for weeks, although I'd been in Albany, NY several weeks before--my first time east. I was in basic training and sorta tied up for six weeks.

August 15, 1969. Forty years ago today: my date of enlistment and the beginning of Woodstock.

The Vietnam War was still raging. It would drag on another six years. The unrest and tensions of the nation would explode on college campuses. At Kent State University in Ohio, confusion would lead to bursts of gunfire from National Guard troops. Four students would die on May 4, 1970. Three other airmen, one sailor, and I would drive from Syracuse, New York, where we were in Russian language training, to join the throngs in Washington, DC on May 9, 1970 to protest and march for peace. That's where we met the little kid named Eric who seemed to be out on the street all alone.

It would be two weeks before I would meet a Cortland State University Senior from Kenmore, New York. Her name was Jean Robson.

On January 3, 1971 we would be married. On April 3, 1971 we would begin our married life together in the Republic of Turkey.

It would be another two years later, in February 1973 that we would join a friend, Tom Coleman, and walk the fifteen miles from our home in Yalova all the way to the base where we airmen did our shift work 24/7. It was the Cold War. It was half a world away, but it was home. Home is always where the heart is.
And what began it all started 40 years ago today.

That's how many years Israel was in the wilderness. Some days, it feels like our country is still in the wilderness.

Will wars never cease? My Mom would really like to live in peace. She's been waiting 103 years.


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