Counting Coup

by Jon A. Griep, http://neovox.cortland.edu, March 9, 2011

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In my family men served their country as soldiers. The only exception was if you failed the physical. My dad failed because he had polio in his legs and it ate at his heart. He never forgave himself and it was his only obsession. My brother, Lacey was the oldest son and named after our Grandfather, who was a sniper in World War 1. We, siblings all referred to Lacey as Dad number two. Always the perfect son, Lacey modeled himself after Dad. It was therefore considered a tragedy when Lacey failed his physical. (Lacey had lost some of his hearing, after being mauled by a bull)

Frank was three years older with the body of a wrestler: thin, wiry and incredibly strong. Bad for him. Great in Dad's eyes. The recruiters loved him almost as much as the ladies did. He would rebuild the warrior spirit for our father. Dad could barely contain his pride in Frank. I wanted to speak up after Frank 's recruiter lied and told Frank that The Army National Guard rarely would be called to War. (Liar! Liar! The Guard was the first units sent to Vietnam in 1963.) Frank followed Dad everywhere as a child but he hated the idea of shooting anyone. I always kept his secret until now.

Me, well I read (along side) Dad, every book on Dad's generation's war, World War Two. I could only dream about being the great hero that our Grandfather was. I also was a great listener. I loved the war stories I heard of my dad's friends. The problem was that they were filtered by his mind. I heard the truth about combat from my brother-in-law. He served as a Marine thru three tours. The economy sucked in those years and combat pay paid better than civilian jobs. He had to kill a woman and her child when they shot at his post. He asked me if I could live with memories like those. I knew I could not.

I listened to Dad talk endlessly about what a great soldier Frank would be. We also knew that I could easily pass my physical when my draft notice arrived. Dad was in his glory, thinking of how proud he would be of his two warrior sons. We would be great heroes for our nation. I finally broke one day, I lost my temper and confronted Dad with my opinion of Vietnam. I ignored the fact that my Dad was violent. I disregarded his powerful upper body and massive arms. I had to speak from my heart.

"Dad you are wrong about this war."

"Have you gone insane, your nation is at war...you serve...without question!"
"If you do not serve you are not my son!"

We were face to face and he pushed me away with his middle finger. I pushed back and got nose to nose with him. I never flinched. I was very angry and also expecting to be knocked unconscious. I was taller but he had once twisted the head of a 1500-pound cow hurting her and forcing her to fall.

It took twenty years for me to hear his apology.

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