Here's an interesting thing about a military draft: it provides a common experience for the youth of a nation. I thought about this on Veteran's Day because it occurred to me that I know very few verterans. I have tangential relationships with people who were in the army, and my older brother considered a career in the Air Force for a short time back in college. But the veteran I knew best was my father.
He missed out on being part of the Greatest Generation, and the Korean War, but he claimed to have served with honor and distinction as the guy that Elvis replaced in Germany. My dad drove a radio truck. I have tried, primarily in my youth, to romanticize this job, but it never held the cachet of "tail-gunner" or "sniper." Nope. Dad drove a truck, and on one particularly memorable evening, managed to get it high centered while on maneuvers. I like to imagine it as being somewhat reminiscent of "GI Blues" - with a frustrated Juliet Prowse waiting for him back in the CafÃ© Europa. It was one of the only "war stories" I can ever remember him telling, and I don't remember that it had much of an ending either. They just came out in the middle of the night and hauled the truck back to the base. Somewhere in there was a reference to his sergeant, who had a deep and abiding affection for fried chicken. My father never did get to go up on the stage at the local beer hall to belt out a number for the troops.
I do remember he had a number of old army shirts that eventually found their way to his sons' wardrobes. He was also fond of telling us that it was the helmet that they made him wear in the army that made all his hair fall out. Back when I had hair, I hoped that really was the reason. What a patriot. He gave his scalp for his country. Go ahead, just try and imagine a bald Elvis.