One day, I tried to explain the selective service draft to my three sons. They looked at me. I could see they wanted to laugh. I wouldn’t let them.
I graduated high school in 1968. We didn’t laugh. Uncle Sam would reach out and grab you. There was no volunteer army. There was the draft.
“The Secretary of Defense hereby notifies you to report…” Induction, physical, bus ride to boot camp.
Airplane to Viet Nam. The lucky ones came home in one piece. Not a one of them came back the same.
Britt and I were in high school together. He was two years older. Didn’t like to study. Spent a lot of time at the local hangout. That’s where we really got to know each other. He was a feisty guy. He was eighteen, didn’t plan for college. He would take his chances with the draft. His Dad worked in the oilfield, like my Dad.
He graduated on Friday night. Monday’s mail was from the government. They had his number. His senior trip was planned.
Drafted. Off to boot camp. Then he volunteered. Airborne. He told me they ran him until he was ready to jump out of a good airplane. Courage.
On graduation day, his Dad was there. The man served in World War II. Never would talk about it.
The planes flew over. The father and the mother knew which plane held their son. The soldiers jumped, their parachutes opened, the men landed on the open field. Mom wiped tears from her eyes. Dad seemed to have some dust in his. He needed a handkerchief to wipe his eye and clear his glasses.
The troops gathered their parachutes and ran to throw them in a truck. Always, they ran. Now, they formed up and marched to the reviewing stand. First time they had walked anywhere in three weeks.
A short speech later, officers and sergeant’s started handing out jump wings. The wings are pinned to the new airborne trooper’s chest. It’s a man thing in a man’s world.
They skipped over Britt. Then waved to his father, who came out of the review stands. He walked to his son. The loud speaker blared, something about a hero, dedication and D-Day.
Dad saluted and reached into his pocket.
The jump wings in his hand were old, a bit tarnished. Dinged a bit from hard use. He placed them precisely above his son’s shirt pocket. A Dad pinned his wings on his son.
He leaned over, putting both hands on the young man’s shoulders and whispered, “I wore these wings on D-Day when I jumped into France. They’re yours to wear now.”
Britt’s father stepped back and saluted again. Then he shook son’s hand and said “Airborne all the way.”
Man to Man.
By the way, Britt made it back from Viet Nam. One of our heroes.
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