On this Veterans Day, as your Vietnam-era 1-H category conscientious objector son, I want you to know how much I appreciate the sacrifices you made to secure our nation for me and my children.
Sure, you told me that enlisting was not out of a burst of post-Pearl Harbor patriotism – you joined at 18 in the summer of 1941 because, you said, there were no jobs to be had in central Minnesota – but you managed to nonetheless powerfully contribute to The War that Saved Freedom. You were and are an aviator, a new type of warrior for the twentieth century, and the airwar, more than anything, won that bloody conflict.
And yes, as a true and genuine Christian man who is self-aware and sensitive to the plight of others, you sat on my front stoop with me a few years ago to express a sense of utter sadness and deep regret over innocent Japanese civilians you are certain that you killed. You were expressly told, you say, to never return to base with live ordnance on-board, to unload everything on targets of opportunity, military or otherwise, on your way back from bombing runs.
Please do know this, Father: no one, and I mean no one who can rub two brain cells together, can lay fault at your feet. The enemy would’ve done the same to you. You were 19. You were under orders. Your country was under attack. You lost pilot friends before your very eyes. You were half a world away from home, without the comfort of close friends or your dear mother. Who, I ask, has all their ethical moorings secured at that age? Hell, they made you eat chipped beef on toast.
You are a hero amongst heroes, Dad – maybe you don’t realize it. You may not have sought glory, but it is yours nonetheless, and you will be remembered as a boy who became a man that saved your family, who stepped up when we needed you.
And you may not need my thanks, but you also have that, regardless – I have a need to give it to you – along with my love and respect for someone who protected me and my country.
Your son, M.
[UPDATE: my father says he does not want to be called a hero. Among the many things you taught me, Dad – and your only known point of agreement with the Rolling variety of Stones – is that you can’t always get want you want.]