I’d like to welcome my guest and fellow Vietnam Veteran, Bud Willis, author of Marble Mountain. The book is a personal account of his 1966 combat tour as a Marine helicopter pilot. Bud is a member of my authors’ group and wrote the following editorial which will be featured in his local newspaper on Veteran’s Day. He is sharing it with us today on my blog:
“We sleep soundly in our beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf.” George Orwell
Where do we find such men and women? Who are these citizens who come forward to risk all they have for our security?
Recently, I was asked this famous question by a reporter who was writing an article called “Being Southern.” He knew I was from the Volunteer State and that I had spent a tour as a Marine chopper pilot flying medevac missions in Vietnam. There is a sense of duty that is ingrained in the Southern culture. I read him a short passage from my new book, Marble Mountain. “When you grow up in Tennessee you are likely to be taught the pledge of allegiance before you learn the Lord’s Prayer. That’s just how we roll. In my hometown of Tullahoma, tens of thousands of soldiers were trained during WWII at Camp Forrest, and pictures of men in uniform decorated the living rooms of practically every home.” When boys graduated high school in the 1950’s, they had to register for the draft, and we all knew that military service would have to be addressed sooner or later. We had been raised on a steady diet of patriotism, and General MacArthur had already lectured us “No man should be entitled to the blessings of freedom if he was not diligent in its creation.”
There may have been some clever ways to avoid the draft, but none of my friends were handicapped by that kind of privilege. Throughout the South, and in Tennessee in particular, we belonged to a culture that made us want to do our part. Of the 70,000 men who fled to Canada to avoid that war, I’ll wager that few were from Tennessee. MacArthur would have been proud.
On my first day as a Boy Scout, I still remember the oath we were required to memorize before we could earn our Tenderfoot Badge. “On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country.”
Most of us were never sure of what we were fighting for in Vietnam, or why we are currently in Afghanistan. The politics of the conflict, whether it’s called the domino theory, the quest for energy, or the war on terrorism, is not for the American soldier to debate. For him, those things are not as important as the preservation of the cultural and social forces of family, friends, church or other institutions. The Boy Scouts of America is a perfect example. What has caused most to volunteer to go off to war was the idea that they had a noble duty to step forward and test themselves. A faith in their personal image, and that they were worthy of meeting that challenge. Most also experienced an unease with remaining behind.
During my combat tour as a citizen soldier, we constantly graded each other as to professional competency. I have since realized that the perceived quality of a soldier’s service may not be relatively measurable. There were good soldiers who died, and less good who came through unscathed. In combat, fate or God’s will can intervene with mysterious consequence. What is of greatest importance is the relative mettle of all those, including the ones who failed in their attempt to become a soldier. That they were willing to step forward and volunteer themselves for the battle — or any battle, makes them a special breed of men and women.
On this special VETERAN’S DAY weekend, I thank all the men and women who ever wore the uniform of our country, both dead and alive. May God bless and keep you. For those of you who have lost a family member or close friend in service to our country, I can assure you those soldiers are at peace … and so should you be.
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