David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
The Hushed Center (Native Son #22)
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

We’re the heirs of the Greatest Generation. They’re not just our parents but a sort of second set of Founding Fathers.

This is fair. Their résumé – saving the world from fascism, then communism; preserving freedom; building a superpower – is unrivaled in their century and this one. Interestingly, when you speak to these folks, they don’t really dwell on the nation-building and world-saving bits. They wax about their families, careers. If you ask them to recall their military service, you usually won’t get how this battle or that changed the course of the war, though the war changed the course of human history. You’ll hear the common tongue, no grandeur about being the Greatest anything. They’ll refer to themselves reluctantly, if at all, and speak reservedly about their long-gone pals, the places, losses and enemies of that time. You’ll have the sense that you’ve reached the hushed center of something, like walking into the deepest part of a forest.

One of my dear friends, an octogenarian with a brusque manner and a twinkling eye, said to me that when he was 19 he “liked nothing better than shooting at the Japanese.” He rose through the naval ranks to skipper an LCT, stewarding his ship and crew through several kamikaze attacks during the Battle of Okinawa.


THE STORIES THEY NEVER TOLD  

My dad was also in the Pacific, notably at Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t mature enough during his lifetime to ask him with any focus about his armed service. My knowledge of him as a soldier is limited to a dog-eared photo album where he’s always in crisp khakis and campaign hats, usually in front of a palm tree or a bar. That album – plus his Army trunk, which is long since lost, but which in my youth resided in a hot corner of our attic. One day, I lifted the flimsy key from his desk to sneak into the rafters to open the old case. I rifled through colorful division patches and medals and stiff fabrics and found a true treasure: a bunch of paper cards which read: Hi. I’m from Mars. My sex organs are in my fingers. Forgive me, but I adore the image of my dad and his Army cronies out on the town, poking strange women in the shoulder, then handing them these punchlines. By today’s standards of vulgarity, this is nothing less than charming. I wish to laugh a lot in my life as hard as they must have. 

One of my grandfathers served in WWI though he barely spoke English. My uncles fought at the Bulge, Okinawa, Midway. Like all the men in my family and yours, none of them talked much about battles. My eldest brother left the University of Richmond for Vietnam. When home on leave, he sat for long days in his room – always reserved for him, this was unquestioned – listening to Motown and R&B (cool black music, not the pop sensations, the Stones and Beatles) on a reel-to-reel he’d bought in Tokyo. Often I sat with him.

We didn’t chat. Even as a kid I could spot healing when I saw it. I recall only one instance when he leaned back against the bare wall to tell me about the jungles. This scared me. When it came my time, he said, you’re not going. No.

As it turned out, I didn’t go, though in that final year of conscription I managed a No. 11 draft number. Instead, I went blithely off to college and a civilian life, feeling fortunate.

This is one of the things I ponder as I age and look back over the landscape of my life, those things I’ve built, knocked down or plowed under. What if I had signed up? Served like the others of my bloodline? Been forged hard and quiet like them, soothed like them as I grow through my life, to know that I’d anted up when it was my turn?


WE’RE HARDLY EQUALS

Through my work as a writer, I’ve become friends with several members of today’s military, too. I’ve had the chance to embed with them and have grown to admire them to the point of jealousy. As proud as I am of my family’s legacy of service, I’m equally pleased that today’s American military is truly representative of our free society, allowing gays to serve openly and women in combat.

I wish I could stand beside today’s servicemen and women, plus those in my own family’s history, and salute the flag as an equal. I cannot.

So, with respect, and safely, I stand with the rest of us who did not serve, behind them.



Posted in Boomer Articles, Boomer Mag    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, greatest generation, history, rva


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