Memorial Day

The 3rd Infantry Regiment or The Old Guard is the oldest active duty infantry regiment in the US Army. They are charged with providing the casket teams at Arlington National Cemetery. The soldiers in these teams perform this duty with solemnity and reverence for the fallen. My best friend’s son John served as a platoon leader with the 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment after his service in Afghanistan.

On this Memorial Day, I’d also like to remember my father. He is not buried in Arlington but is buried next to his parents and siblings in North Carolina. He served in WWII in the Caribbean, served in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation during the 1950s, served in Korea post-Korean war, and finally served in South Vietnam for two tours of duty. He was medically retired in 1972 and passed away nine years later in 1981. He was 62 and 10 days old when he died in his sleep. This year I passed a milestone as I have now outlived my dad.

The footstone provided by the military makes it seem like he died on his birthday. His actual birthday was April 3rd and not the 13th. I think my mother made the decision not to force them to correct it.

Happy Memorial Day

I like the gungrams from my friend Charlie Cook. For today he has something a little different for him.

Memorial Day is to honor the ultimate sacrifice of those who served our nation in the armed services. Traditionally, it is used to honor those who died while serving. That said, I think we need to honor those died at a later date – even a much later date – from wounds and diseases they contracted while serving.

What brings this to mind is that I had a client who died two weeks ago. He had developed heart issues later in life related to his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in South Vietnam. I knew him as a nurse but as a teenager he had been given the choice of juvenile hall or the Army. He used his brother’s birth certificate to join the Army at 16 and ended up in the 1st Air Cav. He came home after serving more or less in one piece. He did leave a finger tip in the Ia Drang Valley but that’s another story. The discipline the Army instilled served him well as he got his act together, went to nursing school, became a registered nurse, and had a long career. However, Agent Orange was lurking in the background and his days in South Vietnam came back to take his life in the end.

It is he who I will be thinking about on this Memorial Day.

On This Memorial Day

Memorial Day is set aside to remember those men and women who died while serving our country in the armed services.

A recent family reunion and subsequent visit to my father’s grave got me to thinking about those who didn’t die while on active duty but who had significantly shortened lifespans due to their military service.

My dad was medically retired with 60% disability after 28 years of active duty service in the US Army. According to his DD 214, the effective date of his retirement was April 14, 1972. This was approximately a year after he returned from Vietnam on his second tour of duty there. I should be clear that my dad’s medical retirement was not due to combat-related injuries but rather due to angina, ulcers, and other maladies. These are typical stress-related illnesses.

As you can see from the headstone, my dad died eight years and 364 days after he was retired from the Army. He had turned 62 just days earlier. (The date of birth on the headstone is erroneous – it should be April 3, 1919).

According to studies done by Department of Defense actuaries, active duty retirees have a higher mortality rate than do their reserve component peers. This disparity increases for enlisted retirees as compared to officers. The study was done on non-disabled retirees who were age 60 plus.

Defense officials haven’t done a study to explain death rate differences among military retirees. Speculation centers on stresses of full time service including past wars, frequent moves, constant physical activity to stay in shape, and stress-induced habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption…

Tom Bush, a senior policy official for reserve affairs, suggested to the board last August that more active duty retirees might have used tobacco or alcohol more often than did reservists. Hartnedy suggested post-traumatic stress might be a factor, even controlling for VA-rated disabilities.

“I would think that kind of mental strain” from years on active duty “would have an impact…very long term, after retiring,” he said.

As to the suggestion that active duty retirees might have “used tobacco or alcohol” more often, it was common and it was expected that you drank and smoked. Cheap booze and cheap cigarettes were the rule in the Army of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It was a part of the culture and I think stress was a contributing factor to overuse.

My dad arrived in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam at the age of 48 in 1967. He returned to Vietnam in 1970 at the age of 51. He was a middle-aged man with white hair. While he never complained of it being stressful, I imagine it had to be especially since it was hard to distinguish friend from foe. Even though he served in what was essentially the rear echelon, it was still a war zone.

I think about all of those more recent veterans who have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan or both. Just like in Vietnam, the front lines are blurred. Even if they weren’t injured in an IED explosion or a suicide bombing, the possibility was there. I think the actuaries and epidemiologists will have their hands full in years to come conducting studies on these vets. I have to wonder how much their life expectancy has been shortened by their military service.

So on this Memorial Day, let’s remember all of those who died while in service to our country. Let us also remember those who, while not dying in active service, died a lot sooner than they should have.

Memorial Day 2013

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet (and, I found the draft cards of both of my grandfathers as well as that of my Dad.

Neither grandfather served in the military nor was drafted for World War I. I think a lot of this had to do with their ages. While both were over 21 in 1917, they were both towards the upper range of the age group considered. My Grandpa Richardson was 32 and had 3-4 dependent children by that time. Meanwhile, my Grandpa Sheridan was 28 and single but had poor vision. My mother said he always regretted that this prevented him from serving during WWI.

William Thomas Richardson, 1918

John Francis Sheridan, 1917

My Dad was drafted in 1940 and swore his enlistment oath on Dec. 10, 1940 at Fort Bragg, NC. He was originally drafted for the “Hawaiian Department” but ended up serving most of the war in the Caribbean Defense Command.

Paul Thomas Richardson, 1940

This could be one of those family legend stories but my Dad was reputed to be the first man drafted and actually inducted from Randolph County, North Carolina. What I do know is that he served in the Army from 1940 until 1945 and then again from 1953 until 1972 when he was medically retired as a First Sergeant.

Interestingly enough, I also found my Grandpa Sheridan’s draft card from WWII when he was in his early 50s. By this time, he was the Tax Assessor for the County and Borough of Richmond, New York. I haven’t been able to find my Grandpa Richardson’s even though all men between 18 and 65 were required to register after we actually entered the war.

John F. Sheridan, 1942

On this Memorial Day, let us remember all that served and, more importantly, those who gave their lives in the defense of this nation and its liberties.

On This Memorial Day

In going through some of my Dad’s old papers, I found this from his second tour of duty in South Vietnam in 1970. He was serving as the First Sergeant for Co. A of the 554th Engineer Battalion (Construction). It is an inventory of equipment that was assigned to him as First Sergeant. What’s cool about it is that it lists the Pistol, Caliber .45, (Automatic, M1911A1) that was assigned to him including its serial number. As I know he didn’t get to keep it, I wonder what ever became of it.

He was originally drafted into the Army in October 1940 and served during WWII. He rejoined the Army in 1953 and continued serving until he was medically retired in April 1972. I should clarify that his medical retirement was not due to wounds received in Vietnam but other health issues. At the time he was in South Vietnam with the 554th Engineer Battalion, he was 51 years old. He passed away in 1981 almost nine years to the day from when he retired.

So on this Memorial Day, I’d like to remember the service of my father and all the men and women who have served and are serving in our Armed Forces.

Memorial Day 2011

On the Memorial Day 2011, I’d like to thank all who have served in our armed forces for their dedication, their duty, and, most of all, for the sacrifices they have made for our country and our freedom. May they and their sacrifices never be forgotten.

I just spent three days at the LuckyGunner Blogger Shoot. Among the bloggers participating were a number of veterans. While I know I am missing a few, I had to the pleasure to get to know (and shoot) with Jim Curtis (Old NFO – USN), Rev. Kenn Blanchard (Urban Shooter podcast – USMC), Sean Sorrentino (A NC Gun Blog – USA & USN), Cargosquid (United Conservatives of VA – USN) and Anthony whose last name I missed (The Packet Man – USMC). Lest I forget, our host Mike Mollenhour (MJM’s Blog) served as an officer in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.

To all of the above and veterans everywhere, I say thank you for your service.

Another Way to Honor Our Veterans

Yesterday on Memorial Day, I was listening to a podcast that discussed recording interviews with family members who have served in the military. They thought it was an excellent way to honor the vet’s service and to preserve these memories for later generations. I agree wholeheartedly!

It is estimated that World War II veterans are now dying at the rate of 1,000 a day. Some have estimated that by 2020 – only ten years from now – less than 2% of the 14.5 million vets of that war will still be alive. In my own family, my Dad, who was drafted into the Army in October 1940, died in 1981 and my Uncle John, a Navy vet who enlisted on December 8, 1941, passed away in 2008.

While my Dad served 28 years on active duty in the Army, he did it in two distinct segments. The first segment was from 1940 until 1945 during WWII and the second was from 1953 until his retirement in 1972. In between these segments, he served in the North Carolina National Guard while going back to college. Dad spoke of his memories of his second segment of service but never of WWII. He served a good part of WWII in the Caribbean Command – one of the least publicized theaters of the war. Thus, I don’t have thousands of books written on his theater of the war to reference about his service unlike those with relatives who served in the Pacific or Europe.

For those of us who have lost of fathers or grandfathers and didn’t get to really talk to them about their memories, it is still possible to find out about their service. The military records of all US veterans are available from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. The next of kin of deceased veterans are eligible to request a copy of their records. You either fill out a DoD Standard Form 180 or you can just do it online through eVetRecs.  I did this for my Dad back in 2004 and got his full military records AND his replacement medals and campaign ribbons. Having his Bronze Star earned during his service in Vietnam is something I’ll always treasure.

In the past, many of this generation of vets came home, got a job (or went to college), raised a family, and never spoke of their military experiences. They just wanted to move on with their lives. Fortunately, the passage of time has given many of these men and women the distance they needed so they can talk about it now.

When you consider that the youngest vets of Desert Storm are now almost 40 and the youngest Vietnam vets are now in their mid 50s, time is of the essence. So sit down with your relatives who served in the military and record or write down their memories now. You may not have tomorrow to do it.

UPDATE: Welcome to the listeners of the GunDudes podcast. I hope you’ll take some time and read some of the other blog posts.