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My Dad is a Veteran

November 11, 2013

We’re a country divided over most national holidays.  A group of people take them full on, others give them a nod, some don’t care and others may not even notice.  Some Americans have their favorite holidays and want us to disband others.  The retailers and online ad tech companies do their very best to make us aware of each and every holiday by blaring their claims about how they can improve our lives if we just give them a little more of our attention, time and money.

scan0004And so it is with Veterans Day.  Military families and those who have lost their loved ones to the war mark Veterans Day as a solemn day of commemoration and celebration.  Others, with genuine appreciation for our veterans’ sacrifices and service, acknowledge them by flying the flag or taking a moment to post to the social media websites (or by writing a blog post).  While I don’t know anyone opposed to Veterans Day, I don’t doubt that there are some.  And then there are always some of us just too busy or otherwise occupied to see or care what the rest of the country is up to at any particular time, holiday or no holiday.  Over the years, I’ve been there plenty of times.

There are about 1.5 million serving in the U.S. military today.  We have 2.6 million veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, hundreds of thousands of whom are afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder.  Another 6,772 lost their lives.  Most of us feel gratitude for these brave people and sympathy for those who are now struggling or suffering.  Those of us with children or know others in these veterans’ age groups, empathize with the military families who somehow must find the strength to battle through their terrible and sad experiences.


Dad’s stripes. When I was a kid, we still had the duffle bag and as I recall, the uniform and other items. All lost to the years.

But with an all-volunteer military, most of us don’t personally know many veterans.  Our middle and upper-classes have sat on the sidelines for years.  It’s been a long time since entire generations have held the common experience of serving in the military.  George H. W. Bush is the last U.S. President to serve in the military.  Each of the eight presidents before him were also veterans.  In 1977, three hundred-and forty-seven serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and eighty-one U.S. Senators were military veterans (eighty percent).  Today, the corresponding numbers are eighty-eight and eighteen (twenty percent).  Sixteen are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  From 1990 to 2010, our veteran population decreased almost eighteen percent to 22.7 million.

My generation was largely disillusioned with anything having to do with the military.  Our childhoods had front row seats to the horrors of the Vietnam War and the division and ugliness that it bred in our country.  With this etched in our psyches and the end of the draft set in place before we were of age, few of us have first-hand experience with the military.  Our connection comes from either our children or our elders – fathers, uncles and grandfathers.  It was generally understood that all of our fathers served.  I can remember as a young child, playing war games around the neighborhood, that everyone had an allegiance to one of the branches depending on their father’s service.

These past two days, for the first time, I’ve seen photos of two of my childhood friends’ fathers in their military uniforms that I don’t recall seeing before – Mr. Hernandez in his Navy blues and Mr. Heyer in his Air Force best.  I enjoyed seeing the photos of these two men smiling when they were young.

My father served in the U.S. Air Force.  He signed up in Chicago in December 1950, six months after North Korea invaded South Korea.  He was told to go home to enjoy Christmas and then be ready to report to Lackland Base in San Antonio, Texas in January 1951.  That’s where he took his basic training and initiation into the military.  The base was overcrowded with inductees and there wasn’t enough housing for them all, so many, my father included, slept in a tent.  One of the base’s routines included waking up the newbies at all hours of the night and sending them out on marches.  The academic and IQ tests were administered after the servicemen were run down and exhausted by physical exercise.  My dad thinks he did pretty well with these exams and in any case, always made sure that he answered all the questions.

He was originally assigned to the medical unit, but then transferred to the group studying meteorology.  This suited him just fine and he still has an interest in the weather.  I remember when I was a child, that he always checked the weather in the newspaper.  At night, his bedtime came after the late night local TV news gave the weather report.  This was one commercial break too early for me, as I wanted the five-minute sports updates that came right afterwards.


Dad with one of the weather balloons. Once, a balloon with a slow leak wandered over the base at low altitudes. Everyone went on alert, because initially they could not determine the object or its source.

By February 1951, he was in Chanute Base in Rantoul, Illinois to begin his meteorology training.  Chanute was not a pleasant place – the barracks were run-down and antiquated.  Coal stoves provided the only heat.  With education in hand, my dad was only too glad to ship out to Japan, which was wonderful in comparison.

He was stationed on Kyushu, just across the Korea Strait from Pusan, South Korea.  The accommodations were pretty simple.  Eventually, they were upgraded to a small room with a desk, a bed and a window with curtains.  At Kyushu, he performed upper atmosphere weather observations that were then plotted on a map.  He worked three different shifts each week – 8:00 am – 5:00 pm for two days, 5:00 pm – midnight for two days and then midnight to 8:00 am for two days.  He was off duty the next two days and then the cycle would start over.

His weather findings were transmitted and used by the military for planning the war operations.  However, technology as it was, this data was available worldwide to anyone, friend and foe alike.  Some of my dad’s colleagues were stationed on a small island off the coast of South Korea with the same weather reporting duties.  Twenty-four marines protected them.  When the North Koreans war boats discovered that the weather station was there, they pulled back their war ships.  They used the weather reports also, which were more valuable to them than possession of the island.


Dad on leave. Looking very sharp!

My dad was in Japan for more than two years.  He visited other parts of country while there, all of it quite different from his home town of Chicago.  He still laments that he was not able to climb Mt. Fuji, because the rains were too heavy when he had the time-off scheduled.  He had great relations with the Japanese people with whom he worked and met during his stay.  At Christmas, he exchanged American cigarettes he could get from the commissary with his Japanese friends for Japanese rice wine.


Dad at work.

His return trip to the U.S. took a full thirty days, because the ship had to turn around at sea to bring a seriously ill serviceman to an onshore hospital.  The ship was packed full and everyone had to endure the rough seas with cramped conditions.  After a stop in Hawaii, the ship set course for California.  My dad was thrilled to see the Golden Gate Bridge and disembark in San Francisco.  He finished his four-year term in San Antonio and then returned to Chicago.

With the savings that accumulated from sending $50 home each month, my dad bought his first car, a Ford, with cash.  He met my mother at church, where she was the secretary.  After a few years in the city and with a young family, they purchased their first house out in the suburbs under the G.I. Bill, which was passed during World War II to provide veterans various benefits to help them get started after their national service.

It’s just an abbreviated account of a military veteran’s time of service.  There are millions of stories that we can hear from our veterans.  Thank you for your service, Dad.  The entire country owes appreciation to people like you.

  1. Great post. My childhood assumptions too have been challenged in this post 911 era.
    WWII seemed a little easier to justify getting involved in, but the constancy of war today and our presence all over the world, just doesn’t feel right to me.
    I agree too that the upper strata of Americans and especially political figures, have become insulated against what many poor people live with. So, their decisions no longer carry the voice of the majority.
    But after a few years of immersing myself in trying to understand political fervor, I find myself disillusioned with all things political. I can’t comfortably take sides.
    I do have much respect for veterans, whatever their reasons for volunteering. They are human beings who sometimes suffer much, as do their families. I wish us all peace.


  2. Great blog, Bruce. I’ve never been a fan of war. It’s a nasty business that is ever so easy to get into and ever so difficult to get out of. I grew up immersed in the heroism of WW II, had minimal awareness of the Korean War, and quickly took a disliking to the Vietnam War. Our son, Tony, did three tours of duty as a marine pilot in Iraq. I’ve always kept a clear view in my mind of the difference between the people who make the decision to go into war and the people who have to fight it. The latter deserve our utmost respect. –Curt


    • Oh, my. I can imagine, but not know the anxiety and concern that you had while your son served over there. I have the deepest respect for those him and his colleagues and the greatest empathy for you and Peggy.

      A country rarely makes a clean break from war. Our latest adventures will have residual effects for a long time.


  3. I had not given thought to our more recent country’s leaders and their military service or lack there of… my wheels are spinning in every direction. A great “thinker” post. And my thanks to your family for their service and sacrifice. paula


    • Thank you, Paula. I think that we don’t take better care of our veterans because fewer of us really know what they go through. Most of us are alienated from the entire experience.


      • I agree. I was humbled when I walked into a retail store yesterday, Veteran’s Day. I heard someone singing our National Anthem and when I found the source….there was a circle of veterans and supporters, hands of hearts. Stories were shared, tears were shed….I felt honored to be in their presence….and to tell each of them so.

        Even with the stories from my father, uncles, etc….I will never know what they truly experienced. I am forever grateful ♥


  4. Thanks for the wonderful post – written knowledgeably in a general and then a personal way. I agree with all you say. My dad was a veteran from WWII , and he hardly ever spoke of it. But my brother and I were woken up often by his nightmares. Finally, when I was an adult and my teenage son and I took him to see the Tom Hanks war movie, Dad opened up about some of his war experiences. I think that helped him, and it certainly enlightened my son and me. Each war story (and I enjoyed reading about your dad’s) should be told. And yes, if there’s to be a war, all of us should be involved in some way, not just those who ‘volunteer’ and sacrifice so much.


  5. Thank you for the kind words, Pamela. And thanks also for telling about your father. I am sorry that the nightmares followed him. No surprise, perhaps. I think there must be a long overhang to going to war. It just doesn’t come that naturally to most of us.

    While the term “greatest generation” is a little overdone perhaps, I do think that in many ways it is apt for people of your father’s time.


  6. Your comment is sadly too true “Our middle and upper-classes have sat on the sidelines for years”.
    Did you see the story about the veteran who died alone in the nursing home? A heartwarming story. Thank you for this post.


    • Thank you, Laurie. That is quite a story about the RAF WW2 veteran. There are good and thoughtful people all around.


  7. Bruce, this is a beautiful post and tribute to your dad (who we think looks a lot like you based on the photos!) Thank you for sharing and many thanks to your dad for his dedication to the US


    • Thank you, Louisa. Someone told me today that my dad looks like his grandfather. Extending your conclusion a couple steps, maybe I do also…


  8. Many thanks for the likes on my blog. I hope you will return again soon and often. I look forward to reading your posts as well. Namaste. . . .


  9. Bruce, your father and I share a common experience: trained in weather in the U.S. Air Force. I, too, went to school at White Hall at Chanute AFB and have much, much experience launching weather balloons. My most memorable station was Shemya, Alaska, a tiny island we called The Rock, that your father probably heard of while in service. It was a critical strategic base in the 1940s and 50s. I am grateful for your father’s generation of service, paving the way for us. We lived in the lap of luxury out on that blizzardy rock, compared to what the first service men endured. But it was still pretty awful.

    My heart had a little thrill seeing the balloon (where’s the radiosonde?), and the peek into an opened instrument shelter. Those white shelter boxes are classic military/National Weather Service equipment, and I can’t resist popping them open and having a look inside when I find them in my explorations around the country.

    Another thing we have in common is time at Japanese military bases. Summer before last I was in Japan for almost 5 months, meeting with men and women about to leave military service. My goal was to tell them all about what VA (my employer) can do for them. In my time there I traveled the length of Honshu and explored a good part of Kyushu. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have climbed Fuji.

    I love it that you have those wonderful photos from your dad’s service, and that you value his service so much. Your thanks is a gift.


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