On My Military Service

frank14 (2)

Toritto in Ethiopia – 1965

I never thought much about my military service after it was over.

My young wife and I were glad I was out, discharged after four years in the army on November 17, 1967.  We disposed of all of my uniforms save for my field jacket which still hangs in my closet (and still fits!) and the letters we wrote to eachother which she wrapped in ribbon and placed lovingly in my duffel bag.  It is still in my garage.

On Thanksgiving 1967 I sat with my bride and family celebrating the holiday while hundreds died on a hillside in Dak To; a hill of no strategic importance which was immediately given up after it was captured in heavy fighting.

It was a time when many were not proud of their service.  Vietnam would rage for years and over 52,000 would die there.  I had come to the conclusion that the war was a mistake which brought that ominous feeling inside that young men were dying for a lost cause.  Tet would put a stamp on it.

My brother served in the war zone.   I did not.  No one ever shot at me.  I had no war stories.  I was not one to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion.  No one joined those groups at the time.  Besides, I didn’t feel like a “veteran”; I never saw combat.

Besides back then just about every poorer young man served.  It didn’t seem like anything special to me.  My family had fought in every war since World War I.  I wasn’t doing anything special.  A stint in the military was part of growing up.

Why did I enlist?  Well I was a high school graduate working in a bank for over four years and not making enough money to live on my own.  I was 21 and was still largely supported by my father, He had an 8th grade education and was getting to that point in his life when he couldn’t do unskilled construction work anymore.  I needed to lessen his burden.

I had a girl at the time and we knew we were going to marry eventually.  She had just turned 18 so there was no hurry.  I went into the army 3 days before President Kennedy was murdered.  By Christmas she and I decided not to wait.  She married Private Toritto.

Six months later I went to the horn of Africa and we were separated for 18 months.  Thus the letters now in the garage.

When I enlisted I looked upon my service as a job and was pretty determined to be a good soldier.  I was going to do my duty for God and Country.

After I returned from deployment in Africa I was sent to Texas to get ready for Vietnam.  I never went.

A month after my arrival in Texas mom died at age 43; my father was ill and my brother was already in the war zone.  My father bitched and I was reassigned close to home.

My job for the remainder of my time was  arranging notifications to next of kin of army soldiers from New York State killed in Vietnam.  Getting the bodies shipped home. Arranging funerals. completing paper work.  Presenting medals.  It was soul deadening duty.

When it was over I threw away everything but the letters and the field jacket and never spoke of my service.  It was over and I was a lucky one.  One of my friends from Africa died in Vietnam and is on the wall.

My daughters were in their late teens when they found out – “YOU were a soldier daddy?”  Shock and awe.

By the time they were teenagers the draft had long been repealed.  They didn’t know any boys going into the army; didn’t have any girlfriends whose steadies were leaving; didn’t have any cousins in service.  The military was for other people; the military was for those who volunteered.  All of their friends were going to college and planning careers.

It seemed strange at first when commenters on this blog would thank me for my service.  I never thought I deserved thanks.  I joined up because I needed to support myself and end my reliance on my family which was on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.  Why thank me for that?

I have three military decorations; 2 medals and an overseas service ribbon I am authorized to wear and never do.   Nothing special mind you; nothing for gallantry – but looking back I have acquired a quiet pride in my service over the years.  I did as I was ordered, I went where I was sent.  I lived for 18 months without my new bride and we gave the nation four years of our lives.  She suffered too.  I did my best to be a good soldier and did nothing of which I am or my country should be  ashamed.

I was there to comfort families who made the ultimate sacrifice; to carry out their wishes. And for them I moved heaven and earth. It is they who deserve the thanks of a grateful nation.

Not me.  I always viewed my service as the price of citizenship.

medal1

The obverse view of the medal shows the American bald eagle, perched on a sword and palm. Above this, in a semicircle, is the inscription National Defense.

 

 

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About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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7 Responses to On My Military Service

  1. jlfatgcs says:

    The price of citizenship. What a wonderful statement. This is a terrific post. It is straight from the heart of an American soldier. Thank you. As a preschool teacher, I am lucky to teach my children how to sing “God Bless America”. The song does so much, more than most people realize. Like you, I am doing what a good citizen does for others. Thank goodness! Thank you for a beautifully written post. Really. -Jennie-

    Liked by 2 people

  2. beetleypete says:

    I was too young for military service, which was called ‘National Service’ here, though I had always expected to be called up. My family had its share of both regular soldiers and conscripted soldiers. They fought in ‘important’ wars like WW2, and in territorial wars in places like Kenya, Egypt, Aden, and Cyprus.
    When I was 18, in 1970, I breathed a sigh of relief that I had missed out on conscription. By that time, we had seen the realities of war on the evening news.
    So, I add my congratulations, Frank. You did your duty, and were prepared to do whatever that happened to be. No nation can ask more from one of its young men.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. jfwknifton says:

    My Dad never even collected his medals. Despite the rightness of the cause of defeating Hitler, he also thought that it was six years of his life given to the nation. He also used the word “wasted”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jfwknifton says:

    on many occasions, but sitting in a tin hut in snow swept northern Scotland would make you feel like that!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. leggypeggy says:

    Oh my, the 1960s were a weird. Conscription was the norm and many young men stayed in university just to avoid the draft. Thanks for doing your bit.

    Liked by 1 person

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