A Weaponless Soldier.
We’ve had Wars about Wars in my family. Grandpa Leander was a Swedish-speaking private in the Russian army. Grandpa Herman fled militaristic East Prussia for the South Dakota prairie , where Woodrow Wilson’s Feds chased him down during WWI and seized all his guns “just to be safe.” It transformed him and most of his dynasty into permanent Republicans.
After walking the sawdust trail at an itinerant evangelist’s revival meeting, Herman abandoned his lukewarm Lutheran affiliation and joined the more “baptistic” Mennonites. Who are pacifists. So my dad and uncles grew up in a pacifist church while across the sea…. Hitler mixed his deadly brew.
Uncle Herb saw the future, and before conscription was enacted, he joined the Army, saying “Hitler is an insult to our German parents.” He talked his brother Arnold into enlisting, which got them both excommunicated from the gentle folk at the Mennonite church.
Herb fought with Patton’s 3rd while Arnold won a Silver Star at the Bulge, and when they got home the “war over wars” landscape was changed. Until Vietnam.
Enamored with the campus anti-war passion of the sixties, I looked back on the Mennonites with a certain romantic affection. And yet I loved my country. One by one, boyhood and high school friends disappeared into the big green machine. Scott and Jim never came home while Harv and Carey came back wounded. I went to college, and then graduated, a low “draft number” hovering over me. I knew I’d soon be called.
How do you square the circle when you’re against the war, but the country calls?
For me, the answer came in the form of a “1-A-O” draft classification, which required that I serve my time, as a medic, but was exempt from weapons training or mandatory use. So I left my shotgun behind, entered the Army, and did not pick up a firearm again until after my discharge.
Despite incompetence on every side (it’s a huge government bureaucracy, after all) , the Army managed to slowly convert me into a reluctant hawk. I was surprised how little harassment the Army itself doled out for me. These guys were anything but the violence-crazed maniacs of Hollywood stereotypes. They were just young men caught up in events bigger than themselves and trying to get through it. By the time I took that big bird home, I was rethinking everything.
By the time my own son was 18, I had gone through a metamorphosis, and saw him off to the Army with my blessing. After four tours in Iraq with the 5th Special Forces Group, it’s his turn to have doubts. Isn’t life strange?