They Also Serve…

Today, May 30, 2019, is a good day to contemplate service, as in service to your country. It is the original date designated as Memorial Day, and was originally called Decoration Day. You should consider a visit to one of the many cemeteries and monuments that dot the land. As with the rusting hulk of the USS Arizona, the tomb of nearly 1,000 sailors, it can be a moving and educational experience.

Military service runs through my family. We aren’t a military family on the order of, say, John McCain, but we have done our share. When I dig into my family history, the fact that many of my ancestors, both recent and as far back as I can go, served in one capacity or another is a bit surprising.

My own service was a curiosity. I joined the Navy to see the world, as they say, and spent

Bob Sexton w/ John (Spike) Marlin (rt) and friend at Treasure Island 1959
Bob Sexton w/ John (Spike) Marlin (rt) and friend at Treasure Island 1959

my hitch in San Diego and San Francisco. I never went to sea. That was in part a consequence of having a talent for things electronic and no command wanted to part with any technically capable personnel. The stint in San Francisco was while attending electronics school on Treasure Island. San Diego was for boot camp and three years tending radio transmitters at a now abolished naval radio station.

More immediately, my nephew also served in the navy, along with a brother-in-law who retired from the navy as a four-striper, that is with the rank of captain, no mean feat for naval officers. My father put in a stint in the army joining the 76th Field Artillery at

lyle sexton scout
My father, Lyle Sexton, served in the army but in civilian life wore another uniform. Service came naturally to him.

Camp Ord near Monterey during the height of the depression .

John Hepburn
Sgt. John Hepburn in full field regalia, though he probably thought bib overalls and a straw hat more appropriate to his duties.

Further back, an uncle of my mother served in World War I. He made it to France but with the veterinarian training he had received , he was assigned to tending horses and he never got close to the front. Another of my mother’s cousins was part of a special forces unit. He made the news at the end .of the war by going into Tokyo without permission. Another cousin by marriage was not so lucky, dieing in Normandy in September, 1944.

There are others, not all of them lucky enough to return home. Two of my wife’s cousins died in WWII, one in a training flight accident, the other somewhere in the Pacific near the close of the war. Her father served in the Greek Army on the Albanian front, until Greece was overrun by the Nazis who came in support of Mussolini’s hapless Italian Army.

Even further back, you will find the

Dr Marshal Perkins
Dr. (and Captain) Marshall Perkins, veteran of Gettysburg and other campaigns.

gaunt looking gentleman (below) in uniform.* He is Dr. Marshall Perkins, who served in the Union Army during the civil war and was present at Gettysburg. He would tell of an orderly who tried to catch a cannon ball and got his arms ripped off for his troubles. Even into colonial times, I have historical information concerning William Perkins and his military service. William was the first of the family to arrive in the new world and seems to have had some difficulty establishing himself. Records still exist that describe bis occasional lapses of judgment. Still, he was given the rank of Sergeant and served for many years in Roxbury.

 

All this is not to single out my family, or extended family. I suspect that many families have a similar history. I recently saw Cold Blue, the restored Wiliam Wyler footage taken at great risk to record the efforts of the Eighth Air Force during World War II. Some 127,000 men served and 28,000 died in the air war against Germany. The numbers are staggering and starkly underline the cost of service.

harold criswell
Harold Robert Criswell, a cousin by marriage, lost in Normandy in September 1944.

Kevin Williamson, who writes for the National Review (and briefly for The Atlantic) wrote recently “A friend who is a lifelong military man says that he wishes sincerely that people would stop thanking him for his service as though doing so were a kind of mandatory social convention somewhere between Welcome to Starbucks! and Have a nice day!” I am much in sympathy with Kevin’s friend. I have encountered that greeting frequently. When I compare my service to what many others endured, I feel not a little embarrassed to stand along side those who gave their all.

The practice of thanking anyone in uniform for their service began some time after the Vietnam war. During and after the war, the treatment of servicemen and women was terribly shabby. Public expressions of gratitude seems to be the product of a collective guilt complex, a means for making amends for past mistreatment. A far better expression of gratitude would be to add your service, whether it be military or in  many civilian capacities. Which would be better, remembering those lost in that rusting hulk at Pearl Harbor, or posting more signs of faux gratitude that no one will observe?

 

    • Dr. Perkins was a captain, an officer and a gentleman, as were all doctors. Just think of M*A*S*H. As such he was required to wear a sword when in dress uniform. I had a 
      physics teacher who recounted once his experience as an officer in WWII. He was even then required to wear a sword with his dress uniform and found it particularly troublesome when going to a movie theater.
IMG_20190530_083835611_HDR
These have been springing up around town lately.  Is anyone checking?

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s