Today is Friday, August 18, 2017

Becoming a veteran

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Now you have a choice. You can join the Volunteer Army and thus perform the vital function of protecting our nation. But a few years ago (about half a century) it was a little different.

Growing up in the shadows of World War II, the country and its politicians could see the real need of having a protective force, one that was not obligatory. It was considered patriotic to want to "do your duty," but it wasn't left to the desires of the citizen. It was mandated by law.

When I reached 18, I registered with the Selective Service Bureau and was given a draft number. I understood this was a sort of lottery whereby I would be called "when my number was up" into the armed service. Every able-bodied man was expected to join, but there were a few exceptions such as conscientious objectors who didn't believe in violence and might be assigned to the chaplain service. There were also people like farmers who performed a vital role in supplying food to the country whose sons might be exempt. Even athletic stars in the middle of their successful careers were summoned into our nation's defense. I remember when Elvis Presley was drafted. If you moved to Canada to escape the United States' jurisdiction, the general thought was that you were a traitor and defector.

As my number came closer to being called, I was in the process of schooling and had a temporary deferment from active service. There was something called the Berry Plan which gave you the option to give the country your service in your newly trained profession as soon as you finished your formal schooling. I was selected to receive a four-year deferment in return for giving two years of work as a surgeon in the United States Air Force, my selected branch of service.

In my father's day, when you were "called up" you would go to an induction center for a physical exam to be put in line for the Army. I remember my father leaving and not knowing if or when he would return home. I was so relieved when he was sent back home because of a minor physical defect. He had a hole in his eardrum. My uncle was given a medical release for flat feet. The feeling was that if a health concern was overlooked at the time of induction, it could become "service-related" and therefore subject to government support or disability payments later.

For most young men, in my day, going into the military was the right thing to do, and it was something that you wanted. What better goal could there be than protecting your family and community back home? The same conviction still motivates our fine, able-bodied troops, both men and women, today. Thank you for your service! We salute you on this special day.

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