Being a military veteran gathers more meaning as the years go by. Serving a country we believe in, doing the work that we do well in a group whose values we respect allows us to get close to, or find, our spiritual center. God often seems to join in, anchoring the spiritual center with affirmation and Truth.
I remember in August, 1970 experiencing my first mortar attack on our Viet Nam Headquarters for the 45th Engineer Group in Phu Bai. I was holding the winning hand in "High Chicago" (seven card stud, high spade in the hole splits the pot with the winning poker hand) when Bam! Bam! Bam!, mortar rounds landed a few seconds apart and were "walking" into our position. Suddenly, everyone ran from the plywood officer's club into the various bunkers around our living quarters. I ran across the street from the club and dove into the bunker next door to my "hooch" (plywood hut) and came up praying the Lord's Prayer. My spiritual center was refreshed quickly when motivated by mortars. My brain and heart reminded me of God's role in my life as I finished the Lord's Prayer and moved onto the 23RD Psalm.
Two of the problems in the Viet Nam Conflict were the lack of support by the American people and the misdirected strategy to use enemy body counts as a measure of success. In part, this lead to atrocities, dishonesty and burnout that manifested as alcohol and drug abuse, disobedience and mental illness including depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for many. There were no parades to welcome us home. The spiritual center was damaged for many.
Perusing my alumni magazine, The Assembly and Taps, from the West Point Association of Graduates, I page back to the alumni news from the class of 1968 (my class) by Dave Gerard. Many photos and updates of classmates/spouses activities follow as Dave tells our class story. Starting with the wedding of the daughter of John and Gayle Frinak at the Plumbush Inn across the Hudson river, Dave next notes that John wrote the memorial article for classmate Johnnie Miller, a lifelong aviator who died in June, 2008.
Then more somber realities are noted with the death of Steve Bowman, PhD, a noted military historian and classmate who died in September, burial of Dick Flynn in April, 2010 attended by several classmates and the report from the Memorial Day Ceremony in Alexandria, VA. Friend, classmate and fellow Cadet Glee Club alumnus Henry Spengler, who died when his helicopter was shot down in Viet Nam, was honored that day, among others. Several smiling photos later, Dave notes "Sadly, we are one less, again. "Bullet Bob" Henderson died peacefully on the morning of 15 July, 2010 in Salt Lake City of a horribly painful and debilitating disease- surrounded by those he loved and who loved him."
I went to Salt Lake City, as did Jim Stanley and Malcolm Murray where we three L-2/E-4 alumni from USMA '68 met up with classmate and SLC retiree Bob Brace and his wife Jo, our friends and hosts. We told stories about Bullet Bob, West Point, Viet Nam, etc. while consoling and partying with the Henderson clan. Marguerite, Bullet's ex-wife was a "saint" for Bob. His children and grandchildren are special people with some great memories of Dad/Grandpa, the SLC attorney known as the "Bull Dog" in the courts. I'll always remember how Bob was against the Conflict in Viet Nam before Sen. Fulbright, not an easy position to defend at West Point where all of us expected to serve in the conflict. We'll miss Bullet, his brilliance, his sarcasm and his incredible smile. He had to run the Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Race about 16 times to keep a balance in questing for the spiritual center that he seemed to solidify in his last days.
Over fourteen million Americans served in World War II. Over 415,000 died in service to our great nation.
Pray for Peace. Get it fixed in the spiritual center of America.
Thank you, Veterans, for your service.