May 21, 2011
A Testament to Armed Forces DayBy S.H. McGuire
Today is a special day for all of us who have served in any of the branches of the U.S. military. Saturday is Armed Forces Day. It's a day we all should observe and remember.
The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated on May 20, 1950, just a month before the Korean War started. The new holiday was established the previous year. Prior to that, each of our military services had its own special day.
But when the various branches were all organized under a single department -- the Department of Defense -- the country seemed ready to recognize the totality of the individual forces and their combined dedication and sacrifice.
So it began. And almost immediately, we were in a war. The war was with North Korea, determined to take over South Korea. When things didn't go well for them, China was quick to enter the conflict, and a war that would last a full three years began in force.
I was drafted on November 6, 1953, the day my wife and I were married. It wasn't much of a wedding present.
My father had become very ill a few months earlier, and I had found it necessary to drop out of engineering school to go to work full time. The family income problem was serious. By the summer of 1953, we had things working pretty well, so we decided to marry. But the wonderful plans we had built crashed with the Selective Service Notice. "Greetings." That's all it had to say. Twenty-four days later, I was on my way to Fort Knox, Kentucky, with no idea where the two years of active duty would lead me.
Some friends strongly suggested that I apply for a hardship discharge. I, like most young guys who had just a few years before lived through the ups and downs of World War II, felt that our duty was our duty.
I finally met with my dad about it, because I couldn't bear the idea of going if he really didn't support my decision.
He made it very, very clear: I should go. Whatever happened to him was unimportant. The country had called. I had to answer. And I did.
Unfortunately, I never saw him again. He died in the spring of 1955. We managed to get back home in time for the funeral.
But my service was very good. I felt the satisfaction of knowing that what I was doing was important -- not just to me, but to my country. Whenever I meet someone currently in the service, I can always feel that same sense of pride.
There were some surprises, too.
In the early Korean War, the segregation of the races ended. Blacks and whites served together. Blacks held the same jobs that whites did, unlike in previous integration efforts, where blacks were relegated to lower-class jobs in the kitchens and barracks.
And the change was exhilarating. In my first eight-week Basic Training course (where I became familiar, and reasonably proficient, in a wide range of combat-ready skills), my NCO in charge, our field first sergeant, was a black returnee from Korean battles.
Master-Sergeant Stevenson was his name, and he was a masterful instructor. We all heard some of the stories behind his decorations.
It was a powerful lesson that in all of American society at the time, the only place a large group of young men could be placed under the total control of a black man without so much as a single objection or grumble was in our military. Master-Sergeant Stevenson was a great leader, and he helped many of us become the same -- or at least as close as we could get.
But every man or woman who serves has stories to tell -- stories that reflect their pride in what they have done and the gratitude they (we) all somehow felt for the opportunity to be there.
So please join all of us who are still here -- young or old alike. Honor the Armed Forces we so gratefully served. Extend to anyone you know who serves now your appreciation and gratitude.
It is an occasion to bring us all to recognizing the price so many pay to keep this country free.