Monday, November 10, 2008

It's An Honor To Serve

Our family has a heritage of individuals who have served in our nation's military. My grandfather, Caudle Adkins, Sr. was a doughboy in World War I. He died in 1959 from lung cancer. The malignancy most likely was the result of his being gassed by the Germans in France's Argonne Forest during "The Great War". He had a service connected disability from the Veterans Administration and he was treated for years by various doctors for diverse lung disorders. The fact that he also worked in the coal mines, probably added to the damage, previously done by the Kaiser's troops. Papaw Adkins had most likely never been outside of Lincoln County, West Virginia, when he joined the U.S. Army to fight in the trenches of France in 1917. I have often wondered what went through his mind as the country boy from the hills of West Virginia, boarded the troop ship to carry him across the Atlantic to fight the Huns in the "Old Country". One of my favorite movies is the World War I classic, "Sargeant York", starring Gary Cooper. Although Alvin York was not from West Virginia, his upbringing in the mountains of east Tennessee and his mother's Old Regular Baptist faith, were surely a close parallel to those of my Grandfather, who was Sergeant York's contemporary. I always identify the story line with my Grandfather when I see the old movie.

Just as Papaw Adkins served in World War I, my father, Caudle Adkins, Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Navy after World War II broke out. His older brother had joined the Navy and Dad wanted to do his patriotic duty as well. Problem was, he wasn't old enough. Not to be deterred by a small obstacle like that, Dad did what a number of young men did in that day. He quit school, lied about his age, and enlisted in the Navy for the duration of the war - which ended sooner than he had expected. He has often joked that Hitler heard he had joined up and he immediately threw in the towel! Dad took his boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center and then transferred to Norfolk, Virginia where he was stationed until the end of the war. A Sailor who never learned to swim, Dad piloted the famous landing crafts that you see in all the war movies. Since he never saw combat, his skipper duties involved transporting Sailors from shore to ship (and vice versa) at the huge Naval facility at Norfolk.

Like Dad, I had wartime service, but was never stationed outside the continental United States. After just missing being drafted by the Army, I joined the U.S. Air Force toward the end of the Viet Nam War. I was an Administration Specialist who trained at Lackland Air Force Base (San Antonio, Texas) and Keesler Air Force Base (Biloxi, Mississippi). All of my active duty was pulled doing double duty as a clerk to the Chief of Maintenance and the Squadron Commander of the 2001st Communication Squadron at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, a SAC facility in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I ended up trading my last two years of active duty in the Air Force, for four years active reserve duty with the West Virginia Air National Guard in Charleston, West Virginia. For some reason (which must have been important then, but I can't recall for the life of me now) I later did two years with the Army Reserve in Huntington, West Virginia, Ashland, Kentucky, and finished up my reserve duty in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Even though my military duty never took me outside the U.S., I would not trade my time in the service for anything.

The tradition continued when, in 1996 our younger son, Benji, shocked his mother by enlisting in the United States Marine Corps. After Boot Camp in Parris Island, South Carolina, Ben did his combat training in Camp Geiger and his Administrative Technical School in Camp Johnson, (both in the Jacksonville, North Carolina area). When his final orders came in, he only had to move across town as his permanent duty station turned out to be Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Ben served overseas with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit on the USS Ponce and as part of the peacekeeping force in Kosovo. The 26th MEU also ended up doing disaster recovery work in Turkey after a devastating earthquake hit that country while they were still in the Mediterranean. Ben's first son, William was born at Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital just a few weeks before he was discharged from the Marines.

Although there was really no pressure to do so, many of the men of our family chose to do their time in some branch of military service. My great, great grandfather, one Cumberland Adkins, Sr., was said to have served with a western Virginia malitia with the Confederate forces. One of Dad's brothers was in the Navy during WWII and the other served in the Air Force during the mid 50's - as did my Mother's only brother. My younger brother, Bruce, was in the Navy the same time I was in the Air Force. Bruce was a jet engine mechanic who served aboard the aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy.

My wife's family's military history is similar to ours. Her grandfather, Cornelius Bowling was in the Army during World War I. Her father, Burgess Bowling, was also in the U.S. Army, and took part in the invasions of North Africa and Sicily as he fought under General George Patton. Linda's oldest brother is an Air Force Veteran, and her immediate older and younger brothers were Marines.

Some veterans serve in peacetime, some in time of war. Some are highly decorated, some are not. All of our veterans, men and women, who served honorably are deserving of our thanks. The title song on Billy Ray Cyrus' first record album in the late 80's , a wounded veteran says these words:

"All gave some, some gave all.
Some stood true for the red white and blue,
Some had to fall.
If you ever think of me
Think of all your liberty and recall,
Some gave all."

A church I pass on my way home has a message on their marquee that reads like this, "Enjoy your freedom? Thank a Veteran."

Well said.

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