During my dad's final year of college, he was drafted into the Army. Not by lottery, but by a draft board who looked over the young men in his small Michigan town and decided which were expendable.
My dad did not support what his country was doing in Vietnam and did not want to fight for a cause in which he didn't believe. Faced with three options--prison, becoming a fugitive, or fighting in a war--he decided that risking his life in the jungle was the least frightening. Soon after graduating from college, he entered the Army.
In my parent's wedding photos, his neck is thick from basic training. My mom and dad spent part of their first year of their marriage on an Army base while he completed officer candidate school. Then she moved back in with her parents while he went off to Vietnam. He went with a single goal: don't get killed. Not to be a hero. Just to not get killed.
Growing up, my dad's veteran status was just another bit of trivia for me. It was the pieces of useful army gear we used when camping and a dad who jumped at sudden loud noises. Already knowing the ending of the story--knowing that he obviously survived to father me--made the information tame. My brother and I would string up his old green army hammock between the trees and spin ourselves around and around.
Several years ago, my dad took my brother and me to visit Vietnam. He wanted to finally learn something about the country he had been in so long ago, experience it without the fear and violence. It was right after I got engaged and my mind was full of dreams about my future life with T. We traveled across the country, taking it in. There are stores where you can still buy the detritus the US military left behind thirty years ago. I bought a green hammock for myself and thought about camping with my own kids someday.
One afternoon, after some searching and help from locals, we stood at the edge of road looking out at an expanse of grass and trees where my dad's base camp once was. There on that strip of gravel under the bright sun, just a few years older than my dad had been, the reality of my father's experience, his youth, his separation from his new wife, finally hit me. My god, they sent my dad to a war.
So this Veterans' Day, thank you to those who willingly sacrifice for the honor of serving their country. And thank you also to the ones who feel forced into service by circumstances out of their control and who find no glory in it. You all have my respect.