Veteran's Day Ceremony

Last Friday my daughter invited me to a Veteran's ceremony at her school.  I have never been involved in any Veteran's organizations nor attended any event honoring them, either as an honoree nor as an audience participant.  I have attended a few 9/11 events but that is different.  September 11th was something which affected all Americans tangentially and thousands of us directly either because we knew people involved or because we were there, at or near the target sites.  We all remember.  Veteran's Day?  I am thankful for all those who have served our country, in any capacity, but I have never felt the need for anyone to pay homage to me.  I went to this event Friday because my daughter asked me.  That is what dads do.

I woke up around 4:30 that morning, as usual.  I popped out of bed, threw some logs on the fire, brewed a pot of coffee, and went down to the office to work for a few hours.  It was to be a short work day but a long day overall because I had a lot of errands and appointments and then I had plans to pick up one of my sons early from school and drive to northern New York State to hunt with a friend.  I showered and looked through my closet.  Do I wear a nice suit or some piece of Government Issued clothing?  A combination of the two?  Maybe jeans and a nice shirt with a Woodland Camo hat or jacket.  Or the nice suit with my Class A cap.  I put aside the fact that I have never thought it looked good to mix GI clothing and civilian clothing and went with a rule I once read which active soldiers are to abide by.  You do not mix an official uniform with civilian clothes.  I went with a nice blue suit.

I have been to many dozens of events at my kids' schools.  I often bring a travel mug of coffee.  This was an 8:00am thing so naturally I brought coffee.  That turned out to be a mistake.  When I arrived I was sent to the cafeteria where there was an urn of coffee and some disposable cups.  Maybe it was not good coffee.  Usually it is not.  Most people who make coffee for public consumption have no idea what the point of coffee is.  They make it in a way which suggests you are to add more to it, like a thin chicken broth waiting for some matzah balls to join the soup party.  Part of me was happy I brought the real stuff - real Army Motor Pool coffee.  Part of me regretted now having to carry around this black insulated canister.

My daughter arrived from homeroom and all the vets were lined up along the cafeteria wall with their escorts.  I realized I was one of the few people there who was the father of a student.  Most of the others seemed to be grandfathers or uncles.  There was one mother.  I surmised that people around here generally do not join the military unless they are drafted and there has not been a draft since Vietnam.

When I was a kid, the old timers at my dad's American Legion were World War II vets.  Sometimes you would make a mistake and ask a Korean War vet about WWII.  Now the old-timers are Vietnam vets and you may mistake a Korean War vet for one of them.  It is the forgotten war.  I looked like a young kid compared to most of these guys.

We stood there in the line for about ten minutes.  I joked with the guy ahead of me that it was just like being in the military, "Hurry up and wait!"  I told my daughter that in the Army, we did a lot of standing in line and then tried to explain why it was so funny that Forrest Gump remarks about standing in line everywhere when he visits Washington D.C. and ends up in a war protest.  I was unable to deliver the message in a way which made any sense to her.  I could see the blank look of a tween who is humoring their parent as best as possible without rolling their eyes.

After all the students in the school were seated the vets marched in to the auditorium to thunderous applause.  People hooted and whistled.  It seemed over the top for me but I rolled with it.  This is what it was.  It was a celebration.  I embraced it.

The ceremony included a number of short readings by kids who put considerable effort into writing thoughtful, heart-felt passages.  A small choir sang.  An orchestra played and then a marching band played.  There was a slide show featuring soldiers returning home from deployment, hugging their kids.  That choked me up but I held my composure.  Other strong, former military men were not able to hold back the tears.  No one could fault them for that.  It was touching.

Would I enlist again?

All this emotion brought back a flood of memories.  I tend to unintentionally block out my time in the Reserves.  I was in college and college was fun.  The Army was not as fun.  It was a pain in the butt.  I sometimes wonder why I did it.  I would assume that at one point or another everyone who has volunteered for the military has thought that.  With what I know now, would I sign up again?

Whenever I have asked myself that question I have always thought, yes, I would sign up again.  I did get a lot out of being in the military and feel this experience helped frame the person I am today.  I am also proud of having served my country.  That was the biggest reason I enlisted.  This was the Post-Vietnam or Pre-9/11 era when being in the military was a thankless job.  Some people still harbored negative sentiment towards soldiers for fighting in Vietnam, even though draftees had no choice.  It would take another decade and the worst terrorist attack on US soil before attitudes changed to what they are today.  I feel good about having had the courage to join in those days, when it simply was not a popular choice.

Still, would I enlist again?  Now that I have gone public with my UFO encounter I have allowed this event to spread its tentacles into my overall life experience.  What was once a traumatic chapter in a book that was closed, unfinished, and put up on a shelf, has now been dusted off and reopened.  Talking and writing about my close encounter has allowed me to shed the skin of trauma I once wore and to incorporate the story into my life's narrative.  At this veteran's ceremony on Friday, with emotions seeping from every crack in my hardened exterior, I once again examined the question, would I do it again?

I was sixteen years old when I decided to join the Army Reserves.  I was a new driver.  I had a curfew of 11:00 at night.  I needed permission to leave the house.  I was still a kid.  My dad was all-for me joining his reserve unit.  He received a financial reward for recruiting me.  I should have asked him to share it with me but then, he was feeding and housing me, so...  My mom was not as enthused with my choice but she was always supportive of anything I wanted to do.  She has been good like that.

Shortly after my seventeenth birthday, I signed my life away, with my parents' approval.  They had to sign too because I was under eighteen.  I say I signed my life away because I read the fine print.  Most new recruits file through quickly and sign whatever documents are put in front of them.  I stood there and read the contract.  The man who was stationed there shouted snidely, "What, you don't trust the government?"  In those days people were not as cynical about government as they are today.  It was not that I did not trust the government, I just wanted to know as much as possible about what I was getting myself into.

The contract said that I was committing myself to possibly giving up my life for my country.  It also said that even after I got out of the military, I could be called back into service in the event of a national emergency, for decades afterwards.  I want to say it was until age fifty but I do not recall for sure.  Most people do not know that.  I did.  Still, I signed the form.  I made a choice, just a bit over sixteen years of age, to possibly give my life to my country, at any point over the following three or four decades.

I did not make a choice to have a close encounter with an alien spaceship.  Who could have foreseen something like that?  In 1989 popular culture still debated whether or not Martians existed.  Science had concluded that Mars was likely a barren wasteland.  People were not as connected to information as we are today but most of my peers seemed to believe we were alone in the Universe.  The stars in the sky were not thought of as life-giving suns at the centers of other planetary systems.  They were our stars and all they did was twinkle for us.

Hollywood gave us Star Wars and E.T.  Our imaginations drank in these fantastic stories from the minds of science fiction writers.  But that was all they were, just stories.  Spaceships could not visit Earth because we did not have the technology to travel outside our solar system.  Obviously, if Man, the smartest creature that ever existed, could not travel to other planets, it was impossible.  And besides, there was nothing else out there.  It was just us and our twinkling stars.

From a young age, I have believed there was more.  But given the times in which I grew up, this belief did not enter the equation I was challenged to solve when I enlisted in the Army.  I would lay down my life for my country, if needed.  Would I defend a stack of ammunition from an alien spaceship?  Would I greet its occupants if they approached me?  Would I board the ship if ordered?  I could not have known these would even be questions, let alone think of what the answers would be.

My encounter ends with the sighting.  The ship I saw did not engage with me, though I have always thought this was due to the way I reacted.  Had I not remained still, had I approached the vessel, things may have gone differently.  Nonetheless, it was the most traumatic event of a life now filled with amazing adventures.  How would having this knowledge, this foresight, affect my decision to sign that enlistment contract?

It is easy for me to look back and say I would do it again.  Now that I have moved on to an Acceptance phase where I am no longer haunted by this event I am happy it happened.  I have never felt special about anything.  This was pretty special.  It was cool - in hindsight.  What would sixteen year old me have thought about it?

This was the question I contemplated Friday morning, sitting in the auditorium of my daughter's school.  What would sixteen year old me have thought about committing myself to one day being alone, deep in a thick forest, armed with an M-16 with no bullets, about a hundred yards from an enormous alien spaceship?

Sixteen year old me would have been terrified by this thought.

It had only been a few years since I was able to sleep without a nightlight.  I avoided conflict, most often backing down from a challenge.  I shied away from bullies.  I am a much different person today, fearing no one and no thing.  Nothing.  But that was not who I was at sixteen.  Would the advanced knowledge of an alien encounter cause me to rethink my enlistment in the military?  You bet your life it would.  But what would my ultimate decision be?

Overcoming Trauma

All the veterans were called up onto the stage, along with our escorts.  I now felt really stupid carrying my travel mug.  I set it down on the arm of my seat, hoping it would still be there when I got back rather than getting knocked over and rolling under all the seats, with the clanking of metal on concrete.  I hoped I would get the same seat back and not have to reach over or ask someone to hand me my drink.  On the stage, my daughter put a hand-made paper "medal" around my neck which read "Hero."  I do not think that term applies to me.  I never saw combat.  Not to take anything away from anyone else who was in a support role.  Every soldier is important.  I just do not think I am in the same league as people who have been shot at.  The reason I am honored in November instead of in May is because I was lucky enough to not be deployed to the front lines in any conflicts.  I am not looking for any special treatment.  But I accepted my medal, hugged my daughter, and thanked her.

My travel mug was still in my seat and I got the same seat back.  It was only upon exiting the auditorium that I noticed the NO FOOD OR DRINK sign on the door.  Oh well.  Back in the cafeteria there was a nice spread waiting for us.  I grabbed a glazed doughnut and some fruit.  I then wished I had known there were Boston Creme doughnuts but I did not want to put back the glazed doughnut and I am not a schnorr so I walked away from the Boston Cremes, with buyer's remorse.

Would I do it again?  No.  The next time I would walk right by that glazed doughnut and see if there were any Boston Cremes.  It makes that much of a difference to me.  Would I enlist in the Army again, knowing that it would mean experiencing fear to the depths which few people could ever imagine and which no words can do justice?


Yes, I would put myself through that all over again but not just so I could say I had a close encounter with an alien spaceship.  If sixteen year old me could have known that overcoming trauma from doing so would transform me from the person who avoided risk at any cost into someone who walks through life's darkest caves, whistling with his hands in his pockets, then yes.  For this, it was all worth it.

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If you have seen an alien spaceship or any type of unidentified flying object (UFO) contact me using the Contact form on this page.  You may remain anonymous if you want.  I will not ridicule you or try to tell you why you are wrong.  I get it, I saw one too.

Thank you for reading and keep an eye on the sky.