When I was a kid, my father taught us boys that military service was the price we paid for living in a free country. No one was asking us to make it a career, but we were expected to do our duty. It's not that my father didn't understand the realities of putting on a uniform. He was a WWII vet. His only brother was killed on Iwo Jima. But he expected his sons to put in their time and we did. Ironically, it was my sister who chose the Army as a career, retiring a few years ago as a Major.
When I enlisted in 1969, America was already turning against the war and young men were finding ways to avoid active duty. This meant college deferments, medical deferments, or if you couldn't find a friendly physician, you joined the Reserves or the National Guard.
Those of us who signed up or were drafted were those who had no pull, no contacts or who, like me, were raised with a sense of obligation. When I woke up and looked around, I saw that we were serving alone. We weren't America's fortunate sons. We were, as we called ourselves, "niggers, hicks and spics."
At best, these sentiments of service, sacrifice, honor, and duty are dangerous, and quaintly old-fashioned. At worst, they're the mark of a sucker. It depends on the day you catch me which way I lean. But either way, some young men went in place of those who ducked their obligation, and some of those young men didn't come home.
One of those men was Steve Bednar. Steve was a small kid, with pale skin, blond hair, and bones as thin as a bird's. He was a medic with the 101st and he died in Binh Dinh in 1971. He was 21 at the time, just old enough to vote. Steve was funny, kind, and smart.
This weekend, as you're enjoying the time off, take a moment and think about those who made this sacrifice for us. And if you have no one else to remember, take a moment to think of Steve. I would appreciate it.