Veteran’s Day — The Oath

I took the Oath to support and defend the Constitution in late March, 1981 … I do not remember the exact day, but I remember reading the Oath over beforehand and thinking a LOT about the significance of the Oath … evidently, contemplation of what supporting and defending the Constitution means is unusual, but I was a REALLY independent young man when I was 21 — I had started my own independent business and I had more than sufficient resources to pay for a college education or to do whatever I wanted to do — I deliberately CHOSE to take that Oath knowing that it precluded all kinds of other options available to me; I didn’t just stumble into because I kinda thought I should; I did not take the Oath mindlessly as a matter of expedience to get money for college.  I really thought about it — as a results, all of the little things about being processed pounded the point home that my life now belonged to different cause.  For example, tiny little things having my ten fingers individually rolled in the ink and then having each finger pressed on the card really struck me.  The processing made it especially clear to me that I had crossed a giant line in taking the Oath and because of it, I would be ordered to get myself into situations where I might be tortured, killed, possibly dismembered and that my fingerprints might be the key point of evidence linking my remains to my identity. I was 21 and because of the type of stuff that I was recruited to do, I thought it’d be unlikely that I would ever see 35.

I was recruited by the guys who worked in intelligence and security who had had my father as their commanding officer in Germany in the mid 50s when we were fighting the Cold War. Regardless of what people want to imagine about the “peacetime” occupation of Germany, we were at war … fighting covertly in a very serious Cold War. My father and his men were part of something called Operation Paper Clip. Earlier Operation Paper Clip had been about rescuing German scientists, engineers and their families from being forced to serve the USSR … but later on, Operation Paper Clip was about taking key scientists and engineers OUT, whether they wanted to go or not. This meant applying severe coercion, using abduction and, when necessary, resorting to assassination of key assets that the USSR and the East Germans would use against the United States and her allies.

In the mid-50s, the old pictures show how guys looked like nice, young, clean-cut, fresh-off-the-farm American G.I.s … but they were Army Rangers and legit killers — they did what they had to, including using former SS Einsatzgrupen to do some of the nastiest, most public assassinations … when I was little boy playing with barn cats, my father told me about how the SS were just like half-grown kitties — they’d fight for the chance to get into impossible situations, just for the FUN of doing it … for example, one of them would act drunk, get captured by a squad of East German military police, ruffed up a bit and after the officers showed up, the SS guy would kill all of the East Germans with their own weapons before coming back to show off his new scars — in other words, the SS loved playing with killing situation, like kitties, but the SS, like kittens, each had his own fear or way of controlling him as well as the “places” he liked to be “scratched” for motivating him.  This ended in 1956 for my father when he was outed publicly by the East German press and labeled as a “war criminal” … the East German’s made sure that a copy of a paper detailing my fathers “war crimes” was delivered to my grandparents. The United States responded by publicly ignoring the accusation, but removing my father and his guys from active duty, converting them to Reserve officers, sending them back to the United States and giving them all a Federal civilian jobs. It was played down; as it needed to be — all of these gung ho young men had their desired military careers disrupted and they quietly went about the extremely tedious work as Federal bureaucrats.

Eventually, my father opted out, got married, my sister and I came along and he eventually left the Reserves and became just a farmer … a farmer who was once the youngest Army captain serving in Europe, a legit badass who aspired to be professionally lethal.  He never really forgot that his military ambitions were cut short … but anonymity of that nature is kind of exactly what the Oath is about. The guys who recruited me later took a different path than my father — their path went through the CIA’s Special Activities Division and Special Operations Group. And THAT was what I imagined my career would be about … first, I would be engineer, a “nobody” trainee, I would get leadership experience supervising Marines and Army combat veterans who worked as technicians. I would have a full-time serious job in college but after I completed my formal education, I’d go into the military myself … and if I made the cut in different things, I’d eventually become a technical advisor and part of the Special Operations Group. It was going to be a long path of development … at 21, even five years seemed like an infinitely long path of development — but in 1981, we were not in a HOT shooting war, so I understood that I just had to do the work, make mistakes in the civilian sandbox, learn, get tougher and prepare.

Of course, it wasn’t just my father, I had an uncle who had been a Navy corpsmen with the 1st Marine Division in the South Pacific in World War II.  My uncle had been a serious party animal in his youth, getting expelled from Iowa State for his antics and drinking — but he turned his life around, got a degree in chemistry and started preparing to be a physician. So my uncle was older when WWII came around and he signed up. He received some rudimentary training to be a surgeon, but the Marine’s needed qualified corpsmen immediately in 1942 so from Guadalcanal on, he did battlefield surgery which was actually surgery preparation under fire to keep wounded guys alive long enough to make it to the hospital boat for the surgery that happened under more controlled conditions. He made it all the way to Okinawa before, while doing surgery on a wounded Marine, he was wounded twice, shot once each thigh, by a sniper. He didn’t talk about that part of his service much except to tell me [during the VietNam War] that war is total chaotic hell and little boys shouldn’t play with GI Joe dolls because the who game of playing with dolls was just fake marketing bullshit to sell useless toys that didn’t teach ANYTHING useful.  Much later I read about my uncle’s story in Eugene Sledge’s book With The Old Breed … and how Sledge and other Marines carried this really big corpsmen off the battlefield and the injured corpsmen kept telling them to rest, take care of themselves.  What my uncle did love to talk about were the Navy SeeBees and UDTs and how much they LOVED fighting and how much they used the chaos of the battlefield to poke fun at the Japanese. They would do things like use captured Japanese machinery to build landing strips, under fire, in HOT combat zones for Marine planes to bring in more supplies for the fight … they’d also used captured Japanese PAs and audio equipment to blast American dance music at the Japanese — sending the message to the Japanese that went something like, “You japs might imagine you have to fight or die — but we Americans LOVE to fight.  Because you were stupid enough to pick this fight with us, we’re going to keep killing you if you don’t surrender. Inevitably, we are going to take your country and SCREW the hell out of all of your beautiful Japanese women and you’ll be dead — until then, you’re going to hear our music because we are going to party with your equipment the whole time we are doing it!”

So I had two examples … two sets of  stories that I heard from my EARLIEST days on Earth … I had a father who had commanded Army Rangers and thought I’d make a good Army Ranger and an uncle who understood that I loved fun and kidding around enough and because of that I was cut out to be a completely fearless Navy SEAL … both of them absolutely HATED war … but both of them knew that it was what we do.  I took the Oath knowing that it’d be unlikely that I would ever see 35 … EXCEPT that I also understood why it was even likely that God had given me Life and had blessed me with the examples and understanding of why FIGHTING for Life mattered.  In other words, I understood why it was necessary for me to take the step of taking the Oath and going down the path.

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