It was the late 60's, Vietnam was in full force, flags were being burned, young bodies were being shipped home daily draped by those same flags , soldiers and sailors and airmen were being spit upon, Free Speech took on a whole new meaning and our nation was split down the middle. I had a college deferment, but my grades weren't the best so I enlisted in the Army. During basic training I applied for, and was accepted into, the Officer Candidate School. Upon completion of basic I was assigned to. Artillery OCS, located at Fort Sill, OK.
I spent the next six months learning how to lead other young men into battle. (I was 20 years old at the time). There were no false illusions...we all knew that our next assignment would be in Vietnam. We kept tabs on body counts and battles. We all got letters from home informing us of friends who "didn't make it". We all had an outward false sense of bravado, but inside we were scared "s...less".
Those six months went by way too fast. Graduation was upon us and our new duty station would be announced at the ceremony. It started with awards. (I got the Outstanding Candidate Award, aka the Biggest Suck-Up Award). The ceremony ended with the announcement of duty stations. Of the 80 or so graduates, all but 6 went to Vietnam and I was one of them. I was assigned to an 8" Self-propelled Howitzer battalion in Nurnberg, West Germany.
I spent the next two years learning how to drink beer and how to eat schnitzel. I wore a clean uniform every day, had regular mail delivery, drove an Alpha Romero, vacationed in London and Switzerland and Austria. I got a European discharge and a buddy and I spent over 4 months on motorcycles touring Western Europe. I lived in a cave for a week on the Island of Crete (we actually shared the cave with 3 American girls touring Europe on the cheap). I've been to France, been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and been to Le Mans. I was stationed in what was SS headquarters during WWII and have seen the death camps.
It's funny, isn't it, how things work out. I knew that Vietnam was my next duty station, but it didn't happen. I was lucky. Many others weren't so lucky. Many others went to Vietnam never to return home. The "ultimate sacrifice" is more than a catch-all phrase. It's a reality that has affected mother's and wife's and children and families until this day.
So, for me, Memorial Day has a special significance. In the sactity of my own mind, I honor those who put country and family and honor and duty and love above all else, even at the risk of their own lives. God bless them all.