With the conclusion of the month of May, we have Memorial Day. It was originally called Decoration Day as it was a time when surviving members of the families of fallen Union soldiers from the Civil War decorated the graves of their relatives who died in that war. Later on, the meaning and the name was changed to Memorial Day to include all soldiers who had fallen in various other wars.
As a veteran of the United States Air Force (1961-1965), Memorial Day is special. I was fortunate enough to serve during peace time but the end of May was still a time when my buddies and I took time to show special respect to the guys who preceded us and had physically fought to keep America great.
As an Airman 2nd Class, 1964
I must admit that when I was a kid, I looked at Memorial Day as a day off from school and that is about it. When I turned 18 and got my draft card, I began to have a different outlook. With that card in my pocket I suddenly faced the fact that I was going to have to serve my country in the Armed Forces whether I liked it or not. By age 20 I had not been called but knowing it was inevitable, I joined the United States Air Force and was sent to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for basic training.
It was a case of getting a “baptism of fire” as I was quickly transformed from a kid living at home eating Mom’s cooking to living in a barracks with 70 other guys from 70 different towns and eating in “chow halls.” Along with that, I had two sergeants constantly telling me and the other guys what a bunch of losers we were and that we better “Shape up!”
It was a classic case of the military using their methods to transform boys into men. For most of us, it worked as we settled into the program and became troopers. For about ten guys who couldn’t adjust, they were sent home with the chore ahead of them of explaining to their friends how they couldn’t “cut it.”
After five weeks of basic training, some of us were sent to various tech schools to learn specific jobs. In my case I was sent to Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas to attend Supply School. After three months I was assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri where I spent the rest of my four years except for temporary duty in Germany from June to October of 1963. On September 10, 1965, I was discharged.
In retrospect, it was a great four years. I did a lot of growing up and met a lot of people from both ends of the spectrum. In 1973, the government discontinued the draft which I think was a gigantic mistake. A lot of guys did some serious growing up by serving their country. It’s a quality sadly missing from many today.