Not surprisingly, we have a lot of soldiers in our family and ancestry. Southern fellas don't mind a fight. If I was energetic today, I would have called my grandmothers and tracked down a fighter's name for every war since America began. But you'll have to make do with my lazy, faulty memory. Oy vey.
So I will only list my immediate family and give a general salute to those other, earlier wars, you know, the War Between the States and the Revolutionary War. My grandmother Joan spent years researching and rooting for signs of family existence and activity. On my Mom's side, we found soldiers that served in the Revolutionary War and the Confederacy. Homegrown fellas been fighting for years in my family, in every war pertinent. Did it mean some boots and a meal? Did they have a political interest? We may not know. But they certainly had a feeling for their way of life, and their idea of freedom. Freedom to fish and farm and roam. And a common way of life with their neighbors and friends. What a different world in those 18th and 19th century years - nowhere near as reachable and at-hand as today. Foreigners were foreign by their very distance and nature, and neighbors steeped in a familiar culture were right next door. Rural people that can make do on their own don't take well to outside threats.
In this century it seems soldiering was simply a matter of doing what needed to be done. My maternal grandfather never talked about his war days as a matter of heroism. He answered questions when asked, told us about his bullet shot in the nether regions, and rolled along with life. My paternal grandfather died a few years before I was born. And if I ever knew he served, I forgot it until I recently saw his headstone beside my Dad's. Their service had a matter-of-fact quality to it, as though to not have served would have been more remarkable than the service itself.
My Dad returned physically unharmed, yet somehow shattered. He spent years squelching his memories, only to release them in bits and dribbles as we got older.
I suppose I was around 10 when I heard the first of his Vietnam accounts. We were in Washington, DC at the Memorial, taking rubbings of names Dad pointed out to us. In hindsight, I willingly grant him his 20 years of silence, knowing that his war experience included a childhood best friend dying in his arms somewhere near a Vietnam river. To me, it was a mysterious carved name in granite, sought out on a family vacation to the Capital. To him, a fallen teen-aged friend that haunted his memory. He remained oddly ambivalent in my eyes, neither supportive nor against military service. I could not place his ambivalence. I had no frame of reference, and could only draw from it a vague notion of war's pain.
Here is our 20th century family roll call:
- Edward E. Watson, Sr. - WWII, Field Artillery (my paternal grandfather)
- Jehu Nicholls, Jr. - Korean War, Army (my maternal grandfather)
- E. Floyd Watson - Vietnam War, Marines (my dad)
- Derek A. Watson - 2nd Iraq War, Army (my first cousin)
- *edited to add* Charles Lear, fighter pilot (Rick's oldest brother)
Political leaning never precludes patriotism. I spring from the same eastern sandy soil and was certainly nurtured and encouraged in my leanings. I rise from my soldiering roots strong and familiar with freedom and its dictates. And though my choice has always been a pen, I like to think that they all served that I may serve in my own manner. That all the forebears also believed in a possible future without war.
It has been our history. It has been our salvation. It will be our stepping stone. They are all remembered. Really. It's written down somewhere, just not here.