Old soldiers never die they simply fade away...
|I was talking with a gentleman the other day about the new World War II Memorial and the fact that so many honorable veterans of that harsh conflict have left us.
Then I got to realizing how fast time flies. In order to have fought in the last year of World War II, which was 1945, at the legal age of 18 (there were some younger who lied about their age to get in the military), that veteran today would have to be at least 84 years old.
Statistically the average age for service in World War II was in the mid twenties, so that would put most of the veterans of that war near 90.
Even the veterans who fought in the terrible Korean War are no longer young. An 18-year-old who fought in 1953, would today have to be at least 71 years old with the majority averaging well over 70.
Which brings me to the conflict I was personally involved in, the Vietnam War. It has been 42 years since my last major tour of duty in Vietnam, although it seems like only yesterday, and here I am at the ripe old age of 66.
When I joined the Army in 1963, I remember telling myself that the veterans of World War II were "the old guys," but the war had only been over for a mere 18 years at that time, and the veterans of World War I, a mere 45 years earlier were "ancient." (What few World War I veterans that are alive today would have to be a minimum 107 years old.)
Well, I guess what all this mind splitting arithmetic boils down to is the fact that I'm getting old. I am now one of the "Old Warriors" in the eyes of today's young generation.
I guess that is how my own sons and daughters and nephews and nieces look at this old warhorse.
The important thing to me is that I have never lost respect towards the older generation. I am just as proud of those 80 something year old World War II Veterans and younger Korean Veterans as I was when I was a greenhorn teenager. I still stand in pride when they enter in my presence.
Although I have followed in their footsteps and laid down a long and honorable trail of service to our country, I still think of them as having sacrificed more for our country than any other generation.
When I look into their aging faces and young eyes, at that distant stare of memories fresh as yesterday and friends never forgotten, my respect and admiration multiplies ten fold.
I observed the same sense of wonder in the eyes of some young helicopter pilots not long ago and in the wide eyes of some young Ranger Paratroopers when they looked at me in my old uniform.
Fresh out of flight school and jump school they were in awe at standing next to an Old Warrior who defied the odds and parachuted into the hostile jungles of southeast Asia when their fathers were youngsters.
It has also made me realize that age is not what makes you old. In my mind and in my heart I am still a young whippersnapper, still king of the hill and anxious for that next challenge.
Those fond memories stored way back inside my pea brain remind me of those good old days when I could climb mountains for 72 hours straight, then conduct a high altitude jump at night, assault a target 20 miles away, then make it back to the base for a ten course breakfast.
I’ll never forget the way the base camp warriors constantly looked at us with pity and sympathy. “Poor guys,” they probably thought, “it’s awful what those snake-eaters have to go through.”
What they failed to understand was that we loved it to death. Every minute of every hour of every day, we loved it. In all actuality, we often thought of the base camp warriors with pity and sympathy. How anyone could sit behind a desk day after day, week after week, was truly amazing and a terrible thing to do.
I could just see myself back in uniform today with a special operations team. To begin with they’d treat me with kid gloves and call me grandpa, and carry a thermos of Geritol with them and an extra medic or two just to watch out for me.
I can hear the jumpmaster now: “Grandpa, we don’t have a parachute harness to fit your big belly, so we’re gonna have to use a cargo chute.” “That’s ten push-ups gramps, only 190 more to go.” “When you do the parachute landing fall (PLF) grandpa you don’t hit like a sack of wet mud.” “That’s one small hill grandpap, only thirty more to climb.”
“No Gramps, we don’t eat C-Rats anymore and we don’t refer to the enemy as Commies. Also, spears, swords, and shields are no longer standard issue, and who the heck is Jane Fonda?”
Yes, warm memories definitely flood back when I dig around in the dusty cellar of my aging brain. To be able to do the things I once did back in the Stone Age would be wonderful. However, I have come to the conclusion that my own days of “boots and saddles” have finally left me behind. (Way behind!) It’s time to let the men I once led and taught to take over. It’s their turn, their burden, and their adventure.
One of my greatest fears upon retiring was wondering if I had left “My Army” in good hands. After all, no one took better care of “My Army” than I did.
My greatest contribution to the military was to teach those who were to follow in my footsteps. The men I taught, taught the men leading those youngsters today. I can look with pride at a job well done for our young men and women in uniform today are true professionals.
Of course, I’ll be thinking of those kids over there putting their lives on the line for all of us and praying for their safety.