As a young child I was intrigued by the military service of my step father, Charles Garratt. When World War Two broke out he was married, living in New York City where he drove a Wheaties truck. As so many men did at that time, he attempted to join the military to fight against Imperialist Japan and/or the hated German Third Reich. He wanted to be a Navy fighter pilot. Only one problem: On his test flight to see if he qualified to be a pilot he demonstrated a frightening lack of depth perception, a condition that immediately disqualified him from flying. They thanked him and sent him on his way.
Later, he decided to see if the Marines would have him. He met their standards, which I believe may have been nothing more than to demonstrate that he had a pulse. Growing up he had been a first rate athlete, excelling in football. He had been the captain of his high school football team in Concord, Massachusetts in the late 1920s. He received a scholarship to play for the University of Alabama (“Roll Tide!”) where he played on the same team with the future legendary “Bear” Bryant. My step father kept in good physical condition his whole life, so even though he was 31 years old when he enlisted in the Marine Corps, he had no problem with the rigors and demands of boot camp. He married my mother ten years after the end of the war.
I gained a valued respect and appreciation for the United States from him, because of his willingness to volunteer to serve in a war he could have legally and legitimately have avoided. His age and his marital status could easily have exempted him. In fact, while in boot camp with 17 and 18 year olds, he was affectionately referred to as “Gramps.”
That my step father chose to serve as a Marine, the toughest branch of service, also impressed me. I decided early on that I wanted follow in his footsteps. My older brother, John, also must have thought the same thing because both of us enlisted in the Marines, each serving a tour in Vietnam. Oddly enough, we never discussed joining the Marines with each other.
During the years growing up in New England, I recall those special days like Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Veterans Day when parades and special recognitions were given to our veterans. There were, of course, many WWII vets, and still quite a few WWI vets. There may well have been some Spanish American War soldiers in those parades down Main Street with American flags all aflutter in the breeze, marching to lively martial music. And I know that the last surviving veteran of the Civil War died in 1956 when I was eight.
I can still see in my mind’s eye the veterans from the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), wearing their fore-and-aft caps. These were the men who left their jobs, their homes and families, to take up arms to face a fierce enemy who was determined to destroy our freedoms and our beloved country. But these world enemies that our men faced, Japan and Germany, mistakenly misjudged the will and the determination of the American fighting man.
So why has the American military person been so ready to take up arms against an aggressor? Simple: Freedom. Our men and women in uniform are, and have always been, ready to fight for the freedoms the rest of us have enjoyed with hardly a ripple while going about our daily routines.
As a Navy chaplain it has been my sad duty and privileged honor to lay to rest numerous men and women whose mortal remains are resting in small town graveyards to massive national cemeteries. Their lives were cut short by war so your and my life could continue unabated.
So take time this Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, and visit the grave of a veteran from your family or friend. If you don’t know a military person who now lies entombed in the ground, then attend a Memorial Day Service at your local cemetery, and join others in giving thanks to God for those who were willing to stand in the gap and keep the wolf from the door.
You and I can sleep peacefully at night because rough men do the hard work of guarding our freedoms and keeping us safe.