Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Father’s Moment: A Salute to His Generation

SAN DIEGO – Two days after this column is published, Jimmy Jewell will be honored for his military service.

Recently, “The Democrat” last week, announced my father will be the Grand Marshall of Lebanon’s Veterans Day Parade and included a splendid photo of him in his Seabee uniform.

His three children will be there to watch him marshal, even though I have no clue as to what a marshal does – this vision of a McClain School hall monitor keeps jumping into my brain.

In case you missed my earlier columns about “letters from home,” my father is 95. He looks and acts much younger. He volunteered for the Seabees in 1943 while my mother was carrying me, their first child, in pregnancy. He left on a Liberty ship roughly four months later and got back for my second Christmas, two years and five months of service.

South Pacific in WWII

He saw combat on in the South Pacific while running a motor pool for the 75th Construction Battalion. His stories enthrall me. He has earned the honor the City of Lebanon and the American Legion Post 15 have bestowed on him.

I am immensely proud of him.

I am a veteran also: Navy Surface Warfare Officer, 20 years, ten months, three days on active duty, and four years, 11 months, and change with the reserves. I am proud of that service.

I also am proud of all veterans we honor this upcoming Wednesday, which has avoided the recreational tone other national holidays relegated to Fridays.
Salute to WWII Vets

In a sense, honoring my father is honoring more than him. It is a tribute to the veterans of his generation.

Their sacrifice and dedication cannot be calculated by the mind-numbing statistics of that war. It was the last war, conflict, or whatever we call government forces killing people of other governments, in which our country’s very existence was threatened.

Even though 9/11 was a horrific, insane tragedy, our country has not perceived the threat to be more than localized terrorist attacks. In World War II, our country was faced with the very real possibility of invasion on both coasts.

Korea, Vietnam, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan have been far-away wars. We debate and our policy ebbs and flows based on ruling parties weighing the threat against lost lives of military personnel, monetary expense, and political persuasion.

But I am not erudite enough to provide an informed opinion of rightness and wrongness of any of these conflicts. While in service, my job was to not question policy, but to say “aye-aye” and carry it out. This has spilled over into my post-service days. Regardless, that is not my purpose here.

My purpose is to note my father and those of his generation who served during that war left our shores, not only knowing they might not come back, but knowing that if they failed, our way of life could be changed for the worse forever. They had our future in their hands and they knew it.

WWII was different

In the subsequent conflicts, our warriors have known they have been putting their lives on the line, but the sense of our way of life being changed forever doesn’t seem to be included in the equation. Al-Qaeda has given us a taste of a threat to our existence, but the sense of impending doom has drifted back toward a far-way war with the passage of time away from September 11, 2001.

For four or so years in the 1940s, the sense of potential doom was real.

It would be impossible for me to list all World War II veterans from Lebanon and Wilson County, or even those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I wish I could.
Tennessee earned its reputation and its “Volunteer State” nickname in the War of 1812. The state and our hometown have continued to step forward at an amazing rate to volunteer for service. That too is something of which we should be proud.

So Wednesday, I will stand alongside my brother, sister, and many of you to watch the parade with my father as the Grand Marshall. I shall stand at attention and place my hat over my heart (Navy tradition does not include salutes while in civilian clothes).

My gesture will be to honor all veterans and especially those from father’s generation.

He and they have earned that honor.

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