For a number of reasons, Veterans Day means a lot to me.
I’m the son of a veteran, a kid from the streets of Boston who spent 25 years in uniform, toting his family from Boston to Kentucky to the piney swamps of southeast Georgia, where we’ve been for 47 years.
Dad got drafted during the Korean War, the forgotten conflict, though not in his family. His brother Bob was called back to active duty. After three years of rather serene if not chilly duty guarding a weather station in Iceland — the natives were German-leaning so they were not very warm to the Marines in their midst — then was sent to the frigid and hellish Chosin Reservoir. There, 15,000 Marines made their stand, fending off 300,000 Chinese soldiers pouring across the border as the mercury dipped to 30 degrees below.
Those Marines conducted an attack in the opposite direction, as their commanding general coined it, fighting their way out of their encirclement, taking their dead and wounded with them.
I didn’t get to meet Bob until I was a junior in high school. He had a great sense of humor. I remember wondering where in the world Dad kept this guy. I knew he lived in Texas but our communication until he decided to come east to visit Dad was limited to Christmas cards.
He never talked about his experiences at the Chosin. Not even to my oldest brother, who also spent more than 20 years in the Marines as an officer, serving from Okinawa to the Philippines to New Orleans and Camp Lejeune, N.C., and to the camps in Panama.
Uncle Ski, who never I knew, also served in Korea. Bob made it back home. Uncle Ski didn’t.
Dad never saw combat — the story has it he was 10 minutes away from being shipped out to Korea as a combat medic until an opening on the base allowed him to stay there.
He got out but stayed in the Reserves and eventually went back onto active duty in the late 1950s. He was proud of his service and loved looking after the soldiers in his section and any soldier he ran across on Fort Stewart. Long after he retired, his uniform still hung in the closet. Even at 5 p.m., when the PA system on Fort Stewart would blast “Retreat,” he’d step out of the car, shoulders back and square, ramrod straight at attention, joining all those others clad in their BDUs who did the same.
His brother James was a Marine, serving with the detachment aboard the USS Enterprise during the Pacific campaign in World War II. Uncle Laurie (short for Laurence), Uncle Ray and Uncle Donald all served in World War II, all Marines. Uncle Joe, the baby of the family, was in the Air Force in the 1950s and ’60s. He was the last of the 10 Donahues who survived infancy, having died earlier this year. He was laid to rest in a veterans cemetery outside of Springfield, Mass., this spring.
Uncle Pat, my mother’s oldest brother, was in the Air Force in the early 1960s, getting into and out of Vietnam before the Gulf of Tonkin incident that escalated America’s involvement in southeast Asia. His younger brothers, Terry and Jack, went in after and survived their combat.
It’s days like today I think about my uncles, my dad, and my two oldest brothers, brother No. 2 having served in the Air Force. I think about the guys I knew in Hinesville, Lou, Butch, P.J., Paul and Paul, and all the others who have spent countless hours in the freezing cold, the boiling heat, from the middle of the day to the dead of night to make sure all those guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan got a proper welcome home, the kind they didn’t get returning from Vietnam.
I think about the friends I made in the Army, though I never served, guys who braved multiple deployments to overseas, from generals to enlisted men.
To them all I say: Thanks for keeping us free. Semper Fi. Rock of the Marne.