Why I Honor Independence Day.

By | July 3, 2023 | 0 Comments

You might ask why I am working to honor Independence Day, our national holiday. Or you might not ask. But in either case, I will answer this important question. And the answer is that I would not want to disappoint a number of people.

• The first is my father. As a very young man, he served in the infantry in World War I. He crossed the Atlantic in a crowded troop ship. Despite the stale, humid air, they closed the watertight doors at night for fear of German submarines. In France he rode in one of the famous 40/8 boxcars, which were meant to hold 40 men or 8  horses, hopefully not in combination. There were no comfort stops, so let us just say that the grass next to the tracks was greener the next spring.

My father got close enough to the front to hear artillery, but fortunately Germany surrendered before he got into combat. As Dad put it, “When the Kaiser heard I was over there he gave up.” I still have his dog tag. Unlike modern tags, it is round and contains only his (misspelled) name, serial number, and USA. It was made of aluminum so that if my father were killed and had to be buried temporarily in wet ground, it would not rust and leave him unidentifiable.

• The second person I would not want to disappoint is Master Sergeant Lee. He was my chief instructor in high school ROTC. He taught me to shoot a .22 rifle. Not an air rifle, a real firearm. Yes, there was a rifle range in the basement of George Washington High School in San Francisco. I learned to squeeze the trigger while maintaining the sight picture. I learned to enjoy the smell of gunpowder and gun oil. I learned that a gun is a tool to defend freedom, not to rob convenience stores. That may be the most important lesson I learned in all of high school.

Lee was a tall, rangy Southern man. He had the Combat Infantry Badge. I thought the pretty rifle on a blue background was for marksmanship. I learned that it meant he had served at least 30 days in ground combat. He had European Theater ribbons with battle stars. And he had an odd red and green rope over his left shoulder. It was the French Fourragère, indicating that his whole unit had been awarded the Croix de Guerre, among their highest decorations.

Lee also wore the Purple Heart ribbon. He rarely talked about it. I was told he had been shot in the leg by a German 7.9mm machine gun while leading a platoon across a French field. Another instructor, Master Sergeant Tierney, wore the POW ribbon. I was told he had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese. He never talked about it at all.

Those are just a few of the people I would not want to disappoint by neglecting my duties on Independence Day. Later I joined the Army Reserve and served with doctors, nurses, and medics with World War II and Korean War ribbons. I hope some of their patriotism rubbed off on me. But what kids see early makes the strongest impression. When I see a dog tag, even just jewelry, I think of my father. And when I smell gunpowder and gun oil, I think of Master Sergeant Lee. I really don’t want to disappoint people like that.


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