I’m Not Proud I’m A Veteran
“Thank you for your service.”
People invariably say when they find out I am a veteran. Some of these folks try to shake my hand—and some even try to hug me. Since none of my admirers are starlets or models, I try to avoid all physical contact. Moreover, I frequently tell these thankful people that I’m not particularly proud that I’m a vet. In fact, I’m downright ashamed that I am. If the well-wishers look horrified at that statement, I go into particulars.
I start off by telling them I didn’t go willingly into service and tried every way I could to get out of it. Besides, the fracas I got entangled in was not even a war. The Korean debacle was called a police action. It seemed like a war to me; over 50,000 American soldiers never came back from that police action.
Escape To The National Guard
I definitely didn’t want to add to that dismal number, but in those days, we didn’t have a standing army and the services were people with draftees. The mass refusals which saw their zenith in the Vietnam fracas were unheard of the Korean venture. Nobody went over the hill but helluva lot of us tried everything possible to get out of going.
The best way to remain safe and to keep the extremities was to join the National Guard; it was definitely the coward’s way out. A decade after my service, it was used by a drunken coward named George Walker Bush. He needed pull to get into the air national guard … and of course he had it with Daddy, who at the time was head of the CIA.
My family had no pull, so I was on my own, but it just so happened that Gene Rossides, a college All-American quarterback, was one of my best friends. He and I took our physical and were designated 1A, which meant it wouldn’t be long before we would be freezing our asses off in Korea … wherever the hell that was.
I may have had no idea about that country’s physical location, but in conferences with Gene, it was decided that we’d try to avoid Korea by joining the National Guard. It took some doing, but if you’re an All-American quarterback you get some perks. Gene used them and he dragged me along and we found ourselves in a National Guard camp.
The camp lasted two weeks and at the end of our hitch, Gene and I conferred about our future. By joining the National Guard, we had to agree to certain obligations: we had to attend one National Guard session a week, and give up one month out of the year at a Guard training camp. And these obligations would go on for six years!
It was a total intrusion on our lives and we decided to quit the Guard and give ourselves to the draft, because our service would last for two years and then we would be done for it.
Phony Flag Pins
Today I’m damned ashamed about that decision. The Korean police action was a senseless war, like all those that followed, and every last one of them was fostered, enhanced and engendered by downright lies from politicians who never saw a day of service. When I see these phonies on TV, I feel like breaking the set. And I feel so sorry for the poor souls who are duped by these criminally, insane politicians with their phony flag pins who are sending these poor people into harm’s way.
These unfortunate, duped men and women usually came from the lower class of our society. Yes, the infantry man who is brutally killing his way into the hearts of people in the Middle East last year was slinging hamburgers at your local fast-food restaurant. Their lives, though just beginning, were at a dead end— and the service seems a way to a brighter future.
Of course there are other reasons people willingly go into service. Some think they’re getting back at the evil doers. Others actually feel they’re bringing hope and freedom to tribes of goat herders who hate them. And then there are those amongst us who just like to march around and shoot guns and kill people. If they weren’t in the Army they’d be jail … and that’s where a lot of them are going to end up anyway … and another large number will be homeless or become PSTD laden street people.
So because of all this mayhem and criminality, I’m not at all proud that I served my country in its’ vain attempt at ruling the earth. In fact, I’m damned ashamed I was a small part of that insane, hubristic and criminal endeavor. And take that statement along with your tinny-flag pin and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. I used this overworked yet graphic homily because that’s all these flag-waving troglodytes can understand.
Then, I’ll follow that oration with a sloppy salute followed by the fuck you sign.
I hope I live through the experience.
Everybody Should Serve In A Draft
In closing, I don’t want to be buried in a veteran’s cemetery. Throw my ashes to the wind and write an obit that says I was a thoughtful, peaceful citizen of the United States—who wasn’t proud he spent any time in the service …
And I fervently hope this message gets to some poor kid who is about to be conned into the service by some fat-assed recruiting sergeant. Kiddo—don’t go. There are way too many deaths, plus arms, legs, penises and breasts, and eyes lying in the dirt of some god forsaken desert.
But lastly—and surprising even me—I’m not against the draft. Everybody should serve … but they should spend that time making the world and this country a better place … not by killing supposedly-wrong doers, but by serving sometime in the ghettos of the world.
If I were a veteran of that kind of an operation, I would be proud of my service. Yet, hope always resides in the human psyche, and a small sliver of that hope remains in my soul. May being in the service be a service to everyone. Throw away your guns and build wells, treat and cure malaria, build latrines, and look up at a sky without drones dropping death, but see the sun and stars and a blue sky over a rich and abundant earth.
You Think Things Are Bad Now?
Live During The Depression
I saw the light on the very first day the damn thing started. My parents were refugees from Europe, which was rapidly becoming Fascist; and though my father was a respected doctor in Budapest, he arrived in New York penniless and didn’t know a word of English. Because of that dearth of knowledge, the only job he could get was at a hospital cleaning out bed pans.
That odious employment and meager salary was just enough to buy food for a family of four, but the rent was a different story. To keep a roof over our troubled heads, we had to rely on family members who had migrated to America a generation before us. These relatives owned a decrepit shoe store and the four of us lived in its back room.
The store turned out to be fortuitous… but the falling apart place was our mean of survival. The family burned it to the ground every year or so, in order to receive insurance money that ended up getting us through the worst of times during the Great Depression. We never got caught, but there were other problems; my father still had a hard time with English and he kept failing the Medical Board tests. He was so desperate to pass the exam that one year he asked the young, would-be doctor next to him if pneumonia was spelled with an N or a P. Unfortunately, a proctor was watching my father and he was thrown out of the test for cheating. After several more tries he eventually passed the Boards, but he had no practice, so we were worse off than when he was swapping out bed pans.
There was an out besides burning down the shoe store. Prohibition was the law of the land but people could get booze if it were prescribed by a doctor. My father partnered with a crooked druggist and the two supplied our Brooklyn blue-collar neighborhood with all the hooch they could drink. Of course my father got caught. It looked like he was going to lose his newly-acquired medical license, or even worse, go to jail. After much consternation, the family found a judge who would exonerate my father for $7,000. That kind of money in those years was the equivalent of $100,000 today. We burned down the shoe store twice that year, but it still wasn’t enough. We needed a miracle and it came in the form of a gentleman named Louis Lepke. Lepke was a killer and the head honcho of a bunch of Jewish thieves and murderers known as Murder Inc. Luckily, Lepke’s wife was pregnant with twins; and even more lucky for us, it was a difficult pregnancy and was in danger of aborting the babies. My father saved the day. Mrs. Murder Inc. had her twins and for payment, my father told Lepke to get the crooked judge off his back. Lepke paid the jurist a visit. The debt was immediately cancelled.
Still our doughty, little family had problems. Number one, our meager diet and cramped surroundings had left me with a raging case of rickets. The cure for this disease is a good diet and plenty of vitamin C. We didn’t have the money for a good diet, but the sun occasionally shone in Brooklyn and I remember my parents pushing me out to the stoop to lap up the sunshine. I’d sit there all day and my health actually improved, but besides my health problems, there were serious problems in the land. Because it looked like the Great Depression would never go away, a large consensus of citizens felt that capitalism had failed. One of the answers to this dilemma was communism. My older brother fell for this idea and became a card carrying member of the American Communist Party. This allegiance drove my father nuts. He had escaped Europe and he had escaped jail time, but he was a paranoid wreck because of my brother’s radical politics and the fact that he kept a loaded suit case in the closet, just in case the family had to make a hurried flee down the fire escape.
Besides our own family difficulties, the effects of the Great Depression were all around us. Most people in my neighborhood bought their clothes from itinerant peddlers who wandered our streets. Pants went for 50 cents and you could get an entire suit with a vest for $3.00 from these vendors. There were also a lot of beggars on our street and they frequently came up to our door around dinner time. Since we had no money, my mother would give them a sandwich, and on those rare times when we were a bit flush, she would give them a nickel. My father would shake his head at his wife’s largesse, but he went along with it. Still there was much talk about money and the lack thereof at our dinner table. Every morsel that went down our gullets was monetized. How much did the carrots cost? What was the price of the strips of beef in the soup? How much was the apple sauce? This constant conversation about money at the dinner table made me neurotic. I felt guilty every time I swallowed.
Besides the ever present discussion of money, Hitler had become a threat. Mixing that monster with a depression made for a catastrophe that was about to envelope us all … and yet we lived through it. My brother gave up his communist credentials, became a loyal citizen, and joined the Air Corps and served as a bombardier on B27’s during the war. My father’s practice grew, and after that conflict he moved from Brooklyn to New York and opened a small office just off Park Avenue.
All in all, after the Great Depression and WW2, the world was a much better place. It was the American Century. The world was ours, it was a happy, heady time … and what helped to make it just that, were the tough times we went through to get there.
There are still great inequities in this country. The poverty rate is abominable. There is hunger, and disease and vast inequities in America. But we got through the Great Depression and we will get through these tough times. And the vast majority of us won’t have to commit arson to do it. I’m so positive of that fact—I’ll bet the shoe store on it.