I almost joined the Navy ROTC in college. I thought it would be a good way to have some adventures and see the world. I’m not sure why I didn’t. I think it had something to do with Jimmy Buffett and this dude that you’ve probably never heard of who had a show on the Travel Channel.
At some point I decided that I could make my own adventures and probably not get shot at.
I graduated in the spring of 2001 and, if I had enlisted in the ROTC, I would have began my two years of mandatory service immediately. I’ve never been to a desert, but no doubt I would have been shipped to the Mid-East almost immediately.
Instead, on 9/11 I was in Sydney, Australia, driving around in a car I bought and basically lived out of for three months. I was completely free. I bummed around the world for another three months and returned home to talks of a military draft.
I come from a long line of draft dodgers. Maybe “dodgers” isn’t the right word. My dad was right on the edge of being selected during Vietnam. My grandfather Timmerman was the oldest son in his family so he didn’t go to WWII. I was told that Grandpa’s brothers always resented him for not going. He was part of the Greatest Generation, but didn’t participate in the thing that defined the generation the most.
My generation is the first in awhile not to experience the draft. I wonder how that has shaped us. For the most part, the draft bisects race, education, and economic status. Without it, our military’s demographic is less representative of the general population. My generation doesn’t have the shared common experience of basic training or of being shipped off to a foreign land.
This has been on my mind the last few days as I’ve been listening, reading, watching the Memorial Day features. This Bob Edwards piece about surgeons in Vietnam, and this feature in the Muncie paper about a local man who drove a tank in Patton’s army, hint at the shared experience and bonds of brotherhood that bound their respective generations.
My great uncle Gene Wilt, who served in Africa during WWII, just passed away. At his viewing, a long line of VFW members approached his casket and saluted one-by-one. They know his sacrifice. They know what it means to serve.
I never will.
Gene’s brother, my grandfather Bob Wilt, was in Paris during the war. He didn’t talk about his experience much and no one is really sure what he did or where he did it. For the most part all we have is the picture I posted above. But no doubt, when Grandpa or Gene went to the hardware store or the grocery or the movies and they bumped into men around their own age they shared something. Maybe it was manifested in a wink or a nod, but it was probably just an unspoken, invisible something that most in my generation will never know.