Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Choice and Blood

The family I often prefer is the family of my choice, the people with whom I have shared good times and bad and have become close to. Blood family can often depress and repress. And sometimes, like today, family is irritating and petty.

On Sunday, I wrote about a man who visited our home many times. Mom always said she thought he was a cousin but I called him uncle. He fired my imagination and stirred my tenderest emotions because he had survived the Bataan Death March. He was a POW in Japan until the end of WWII and I still remember the scars on his thumbs by which he had been hung up and tortured. I've met a few veterans over the years, and interviewed many more, and I am always amazed they can find humor in the most horrendous situations. Their humor, I was told once, was a way for them to shield their families from the horrors they knew and lived with every day of their lives, as Uncle Lacy lived with his horrors.

One veteran, a man who had served in the first group of the 101st Airborne gave me a copy of his memoirs. I still remember the humor that runs through the tale of freezing nights in foxholes in the forest and overturned jeeps and dead cattle among the tulip fields in the Netherlands. One part of his story is about how he found a bicycle while on patrol in Holland and pumping hell for leather to get to a local cafe where they were serving steak. I still smile when I think of him pedaling along the canals to get to the cafe for his share of steak past a bloated, bullet-ridden corpse of a cow in a field still smoking from tanks and vehicles that were bombarded with shells and gunfire. Everyone in his squad rode that bike past the same dead cow along the canal to the cafe to get a steak dinner, a luxury after weeks of living on cold beans out of a can.

Then I think about the puking runs during basic when their evil commander told his men there would be no run that afternoon before releasing them for chow, which turned out to be spaghetti and meatballs, a meal they tasted again after their punishing run up that suicide hill. The 101st was the best airborne group in the Army maybe because of the trials and tribulations they endured to be a part of that elite group.

Uncle Lacy wasn't part of the 101st but he was a soldier, an ordinary soldier, who was caught up in an extraordinary series of events, the high point of which was the Bataan Death March. Then, as now, I see him as a hero, just as I see the men and women who serve in all branches of the military who stand in harm's way for each and every American.

That was the point of my post on Sunday, not my relationship to Lacy Prater but my respect and honor for the men and women serving in the military and walking in harm's way. That is what brought out the petty perniciousness in one of my cousins and reminded me why I prefer my chosen family to some of my blood relations. She thought I was trying to steal a little of Lacy Prater's glory by calling him uncle and sharing that with other members of the family, including her son who has served several tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. She couldn't have been more wrong. I am not a soldier. Her son, Lacy Prater, and the sons of several friends are soldiers. My father was a soldier and served two tours in Korea, once during the Korean War and the second time during the Pueblo Incident. I know these people or know of them. I honor and respect them. They are heroes. They deserve so much more than I can ever give and more thanks than they will likely ever receive for leaving their families and their homes to serve in the military. My post wasn't about me; it was about them.

I remember Uncle Lacy every year at Veterans Day. I'm sad to say that I don't remember him every day. He deserves more of me and of us all.

Whether the war is popular or not, these men and women have chosen to serve in our stead and many have died. We should remember them every time we exercise our freedoms because they are the reason we still have those freedoms. I honor those veterans and all the veterans who have gone before, even though I wish their sacrifice had not been necessary.

Now and always, thank you, veterans, for walking in harm's way for me and for all of us. As far as I am concerned, you are the family I would choose.

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