He was a double veteran, actually. Served twice, in two different services.
Timing was everything. He joined the Army just at the end of World War II when everything was winding down. Just couldn't graduate high school quite fast enough, it seems. No matter; he joined the band. Did his stint and accepted the thanks of a grateful nation.
Then came the Korean "conflict." He decided to join up again, but this time opted for the Air Force, and once again served in the band. Did time in Alaska. Made, I believe, Staff Sgt.
He told exactly two stories about his time in the military. To me, at least. One had to do with lips freezing to the mouthpiece of his horn in Alaska. The other was a story with a moral. Something about having "borrowed" a superior officer's Jeep, but under orders from his own superior. When the offended officer called him on it, his response was, "Guilty with an explanation, SIR!" I always got a kick out of that one.
At some point, probably in his military career, he got a tattoo. He pointedly refused to ever discuss it. No idea what the circumstances may have been. Certainly at that point he would have been considered a man of the world, and in my imagination could well have been out on furlough with some buddies, imbibed somewhat more than would be considered legally safe these days, and got the tattoo. But we'll never know that story now, at least not in this life.
This veteran is, of course, my father. Dad passed away about a decade ago. There's a marker at his grave denoting his two branches of service. I've not been back to see it since the funeral. I've meant to, of course. In fact, the one time I tried during one of our family excursions the cemetery was closed. It doesn't trouble me that I've not been back. We'll get there one of these days, and the desire to see it hasn't fled. But I'm comfortable that my memories of Dad are still fresh enough that I find comfort in them.
Dad was loyal to his country. I don't say patriotic, because that smacks of more overt acts of flag-waving and pontificating that were never Dad's style. His was a quiet patriotism. But he understood, as well as or better than most, just how important this country was in the wide scheme of things throughout the world. Why else join two branches of service only to suffer through two different boot camp experiences and never see combat? It was because he saw it as being important. A duty that he would not shirk.
I would venture to guess that none of these thoughts were terribly profound to Dad. He had been brought up to love and support his country, and he took his citizenship seriously. According to his mother, who all but declared that the man walked on water, he was just built that way. More likely Dad took a pragmatic view of his service at the time. Certainly he never bragged about it in later years. It was just a fact of his life up to that point. Something that added to his world view and his luggage full of experience.
That his oldest son would be somewhat more openly patriotic would not have surprised Dad. While I have a lot of Dad in me, I also represent Mom and her expressiveness. This is where my desire to write comes from. Dad was never that expressive. While serving my mission he wrote me exactly two letters. One encouraging me to stick to the work. The other giving me a few details of his wipeout on his Vespa (long story). Those represent the only two letters I received from my father ever. At some point he kept a journal, but mostly because it was on a computer and he loved to tinker with computers.
I appreciate two things about Dad's service in the Army and the Air Force. First and foremost is an appreciation of all things we love about our veterans. Their willingness to serve and protect our nation from enemies of freedom. It is, however, his love of and devotion to this country that I appreciate most. It is that characteristic that I have adopted in my own life, and I treasure it. I was never brave enough to volunteer for service; the draft ended by the time I was old enough to enlist, and the mandatory registration requirements weren't reinstated until I had just passed that age limit. Probably would have gone Navy if anything, but Dad would have been cool with that. But even without having served directly, I have long supported our military by helping in a small way to build the materials that they need to be able to carry that fight wherever duty may require. It is a work that I cherish beyond simply bringing home the bacon.
So we honor our veterans (Mrs. Woody's Dad also served) on this day. May their devotion to duty never be counted against them, and may God protect them, one and all.
Rest in peace, Dad.