I have had several male relatives in active service during Wars. My Mother’s Father, Harley Sullivan, was in the Army at the beginning of WWII, and all I ever was able to get out of my Mom was that when her Dad came home, he was not the same man who had left. He was angry, all the time. What he had seen on his tours to various countries had changed him, even though he sent home letters to my Grandma showing him and his buddies, arms wrapped around each other, smiling in front of their tents.
He didn’t smile when he came home. He drank. He got into fist fights. He yelled at my Grandma. He never yelled at my Mom or her brother, but he didn’t parent them, either.
He killed himself. It was never spoken about. I learned not to ask too many questions. He died when I was a toddler, so I never really knew him.
My Father, who was born in 1934, graduated from High School in 1951 and enrolled at the University of Michigan. He rushed a fraternity and spent his first semester of school doing typical frat boy things, meaning, not studying. At the end of the semester, he had flunked his classes.
His Father informed him that a stint in the Army would get him on the right path, so Dad enlisted. He went to Basic Training and at the end, he was sent to see the Communications Officer. He was told that he had two choices-join a group that was training to be in the Communications Corp., or join the Infantry.
He chose the Communications Corp. Now, the catch was, they had three weeks to learn to type 60 words a minute. You see, our soldiers that were intercepting messages being sent in the Korean Army were typing those messages out in Morse Code. My Dad’s job would be to listen to the Morse Code and type out what he heard, at a rate of 60 words a minute. It was either that, or strap on a weapon and get shipped to Korea.
He learned to type. And for his tour in the Army, he sat in a hot barracks in Texas and typed out Morse Code for the Army Communications Corp. Which, by the way, was technically a branch of the C.I.A., so my Dad always joked that he was really a C.I.A. agent.
He spent his time in the C.C., and when it was over, the G.I. Bill paid for him to go back to college. He chose Wayne State University instead, studied History and Geography and got a teaching certificate, and married his sister’s college roommate, my Mother, in 1959. 10 years later, they adopted me.
Sometimes when I sit and just think about what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, when I think about how 19 year olds are dying there, it makes me so sad I can hardly breathe. Because while I absolutely agree that we have to keep America safe, I think of those Mothers, watching their sons and daughters get on buses and airplanes, not wanting to allow themselves to think that it might be the last time they see their children alive.
If this war doesn’t end in seven years, it could be my oldest son getting on one of those planes. I could be that Mother wondering if he’ll come home, and then he could be that boy coming home, but changed forever. I don’t have any family members buried in Arlington Cemetery, or serving in Iraq, and today, my heart goes out to everyone who does. And if you are with your Dad today, or your Uncle or Grandpa or Aunt or whomever in your family did serve in a war and came back, please hug them tight for me, and tell them, thank you.