I come from a family of warriors.
On a mantel in my parents’ home, there’s a faded picture of one of my ancestors in his Civil War uniform. The man staring out from the daguerreotype could be Lincoln or Grant — unless you look closely — because all you can see at first is a massive black beard poking out from a cloud.
Other warriors in our family tree followed. Some fought in WWI. Another was injured at Pearl Harbor. Though they did not see combat, my father served in the Air Force in the 50s; my oldest brother was a tank commander prior to the first Gulf War.
All of them put their butts on the line so people like me could live in a free, democratic country and plop our safe butts down in comfy chairs in air-conditioned homes.
I am an outlier among the warriors, a pacifist who takes it to extremes. When spotting an insect crawling in my house, I run for the nearest magazine. Not to kill it, mind you, but to shoo it safely outside.
And yet, my heroes have always been soldiers. I cheered loudest for John Wayne and Clint Eastwood whenever they donned military garb. My favorite toy as a child was my G.I. Joe with Kung Fu Grip. And, while I may not agree with all the wars we fight, I support the men (and women) who fight them.
Today we recognize 21.8 million living veterans of the U.S. armed forces. I want to recognize one who is no longer with us.
The Lad from the Deep South
In 1982, Arbor House published one of the great books about Marines, Henry Berry’s “Semper Fi, Mac.” One chapter of that book is seen through the eyes of my uncle, Dick Franklin, who grew up rawboned in Moss Point, Mississippi.
As Berry writes, “Dick Franklin, known as Frank in the Pacific, was one of the thousands of young southerners in the seventeen-to-eighteen-year-old age bracket who joined the Corps during World War II. He served with the Marines in the Guam and Okinawa campaigns. In the latter fight, he was very seriously wounded and for a while it was feared he would never walk again.”