My dad was born in 1940 and grew up in the Bronx. Sounds simple, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. He and both his brothers joined the military – my dad did it so young his father had to sign some paper to give him permission to join the Marines. I don’t know about his brothers’ reasons, but my dad and I talked about him joining up many times.
My dad told me, in short, that part of his joining was about running away. My dad graduated from high school early, and started taking college classes, but he had an overwhelming need to get out of New York, and the Marines was the best option available to him. He wanted to get out, and they took him out. Way out.
In the end, though, military service was much more than a place to run away to. In the service, my father found a place for himself, a place that made sense to him in ways I cannot describe. A structure for him to live in, a mission he could commit to, a way of life that fed him. My father found a home in the service.
When I was older, we had frequent discussions about the need for armed services, for how they do or don’t protect people or democracy, about how killing people is somehow necessary for freedom. We did not always land on the same side of these discussions. But that never changed the way I felt about him – or his service. I was always proud of my father, the military man. I was proud of his dedication, of his sacrifice and of his courage.
He’s gone now – maybe even in part because of his service – and I’m proud of him still. My father retired with 30 years of service, and went on to do 18 or so more years as a civil servant. He only left the service of his country when pancreatic cancer took him away from us all. This is for my dad. I love you!