Saturday, July 29, 2006

Supporting Our Troops - My Journey (Part Two)

Supporting the troops has always been part of our family tradition. When I was a little girl, in November, my Mom would sit us down and have us "draw pretty pictures for the soldiers". She would explain that many were far, far away from home for the holidays and we needed to cheer them up, because they were far away so that we could all be together. So, we drew pretty pictures for the soldiers. My Mom, adding a letter of her own, would bundle them up and send them off. My Mom came of age during WWII - she lost friends, she worked on projects for the troops, rolled bandages at the Red Cross, she wrote letters and sent them off to Europe and the Pacific. She never lost the need to do something for those who were giving so much for us. And, she instilled in me that obligation to do the same thing.

As I aged, she would gently remind us that it was time for letters to the troops. But, wisely, she left it to us to participate or not. A gentle woman, she went on with her support activities quietly, while raising the two of us as a working, single mother (not something seen often in the early sixties). I remember in high school (remember how smart we all thought we were??!!) I decided with the great wisdom of youth that I was anti-war. This gentle woman nodded her head and said, "I need you to help me with something this weekend."

My Mom, this graceful lady, and her sixteen year old hippie-wanna-be daughter drove out to the airport. You see, my Mom worked with the USO to greet troops arriving in Hawaii. In those days, the planes were greeted with stair ramps, people deplaned into the open air and there was an observation deck where you could stand outside and watch people come and go. I walked out onto the tarmac with her as the stair ramp was being secured to the plane. Above me, on the observation deck, was a group of rowdy looking people holding nasty signs and chanting hateful things. When the passengers began to deplane, and the military uniform was spotted, the rowdy group became loud and vile. "Baby killer" was a common epithet and there was spitting, throwing of lit cigarettes and trash - an extremely ugly representation of humanity. I turned to look at my Mom who had her arm around this young soldier, barely eighteen. She was smiling at him and talking to him as a Mom does. I will never forget him grabbing her hand, much like a small boy would and allowing himself to be led away from the vile and into the comfort of a stranger who cared ~ he was coming from VietNam to attend his father's funeral. We stayed there all day, greeting soldiers who were arriving and escorting some who were departing. Each was harangued by this vile group of people.

Through it all, my Mom remained a lady, remained supportive of these young men, in spite of the spit that had landed on her dress and her hair on multiple occasions. She stood beween the vile and the honorable - and, with her protective and calm demenor kept these young men from responding in a way that would have ruined their lives. By example, my Mom taught me a great lesson about choosing sides. I knew I wanted to be on the side of the supportive and the caring, not on the side of the vile. Later, she explained to me that no one likes war, that deep down we are all anti-war, but that sometimes, brave men must wage war so that we will have peace, and that it is our job as citizens to care for them while they are doing the hardest job of all, for they are doing it for us.

My Mom, never lectured me, never argued with me, she always taught by example - believing she had children who were smart enough to figure it out on their own if they were shown both sides of the issue. Up until her death, we still sat down and wrote those holiday cards and letters, and mailed them off, knowing that somewhere far, far away someone would smile and feel special because we cared. It took me many years to understand that the only pacifist on the tarmac that day was my Mom - the one who was assaulted with vile language and spittle, the one that maintained her composure, the one that smiled and cared. She was a pacifist because she did the right thing, she did it kindly and gently and she did not respond to violence with violence. I am still so very proud of her all of these decades later.


Ron Simpson said...

Your mom has a lot of class. I was born in 71, so I do not have first had experience with Vietnam or the actions spawned by it. My dad was in the Air Force, so growing up, I had some idea of what service meant. I come from a long tradition of soldiers. I have three grandfathers and all three were in WW2. One was in the 101st Airborne in D-day, one was an infantryman that hit the beach in D-day. The third was on air craft carriers in the Pacific. He is in some live footage used in the movie Midway. My uncles all served. Most of my cousins did too. I have traced back relatives intoteh civil war and beyond. They all served. So I have to say that service to your country was kind of expected of me, and I joined at 17. I stayed in 8 years and got out because of a knee injury, otherwise I would still be there. My dad says something that I agree with. You do not have to support the war to support the soldiers. The anti war people seem not to have figured this out.

Kanani said...

Three generations have no idea that this attitude existed during a sorry point in our history. Sadly, there are still people left over from that era who have infected the minds of younger generations.