I Was a Soldier…

I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be a pilot. The Air Force had no use for color blind pilots with astigmatism! My next choice was to go through the ROTC program at the University of Nebraska and get a commission in the Army. I was going to spend as little time as possible on active duty and fulfill my obligation one weekend at a time in the reserves. When I graduated I had orders for six months of active duty. Then I was going to return to the farm.

It was a great plan. It got changed dramatically along the way. In the summer after I graduated, the Communists built a wall through Berlin. My orders for six months of active duty were promptly changed to two years. While I was away someone else rented the farm that was to have been mine. The beginning of my farming career was delayed five years until my father retired. In the interval I had the experience of teaching Vocational Agriculture in the school at Filley Nebraska.

There was no war going on while I was in the Army. I was too young for Korea. I was off active duty when hostilities escalated in Vietnam. Several of my colleagues who made the military a career fought in Vietnam. Some came home in boxes.

My war was the cold war. During the time between graduation and my final discharge, besides the Berlin wall, there was the Cuban missile crisis and a skirmish between India and China over the obscure country of Bhutan. It was a scary time. President Johnson sent the first regular troops to Vietnam while I was at the last summer camp with my reserve unit in 1965. My obligation ended with a discharge in 1974.

I think I would have been a poor soldier. I was frightened of the prospect of combat the whole time I was on active duty. I anticipated that if I were ever in battle, I would not survive. My experience gave me a profound respect for those who served in the military.

Thanksgiving is a time when I think a lot about the sacrifices being made by those currently in the military. My first Thanksgiving away from home was in 1961. Sharon and I had just moved to Maryland where I was attending Army Intelligence School. My aunt and uncle lived on a wildlife reservation at nearby Laurel. They invited us to spend the day with them and their friends. We missed being home but were delighted to spend the holiday with someone we knew.

Both of my daughters married army veterans. In the days of the draft that was not unusual. Today it is rare for all male members of an immediate family to have military experience. I am glad that, like me, they never had to see combat. For all of us the military was an educational experience that was part of the maturing process.

This holiday there are many families split by conflicts thousands of miles away. With air travel and electronic communications, the separation is not as complete as it was in my day. However, the dangers are just as real and the sacrifices of the soldiers and their families just as trying. There is no longer a reserve unit in my home town, so there is no fear of a call up. However, there are young people from the community involved in a variety of ways. One of the boys who went to Sunday School with my girls is now a sergeant in a National Guard transportation company somewhere in Iraq. Until his unit was called, he was a businessman in a small town in Northwest Nebraska. I wish him and all of the others fighting for the country a safe return. I hope it is soon.

This Thanksgiving it is easy to be thankful. Here in Southeast Nebraska the weather was dry but our crop was better than last year. Prices are high enough that our income is average even with the short crop. Harvest weather was almost ideal. The crop was brought in early.

My grandson was born prematurely three years ago last week. He is in excellent health and growing like a weed. His cardiologist gave him a clean bill of health at his last visit. The doctor told the parents that they do not have to bring him back. Our two granddaughters are both in pre-school.

I am making the transition to retirement with few hitches so far. I feared I would have reservations about the change. Not so! I am finding great relief as I complete each responsibility and turn it over to a younger individual. Sharon and I are both in good health. She is going to teach another year. She could have retired early. She likes it well enough to work until she can take full pension and Social Security.

I am especially thankful in this time of world turmoil that there are individuals who make the sacrifices necessary to keep our country free. I get emotional when I think of their involvement and the risks they take. The price of corn and soybeans does not seem so important compared to the worries that their families have today. Once upon a time I was doing what these young people are doing. I hope that I might have played a small part in the process of keeping this nation the great home that it is.