Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, November 10, 2006

Proud & Petrified, But No Longer Puzzled

by Kerry Blair

I have a sticker on the back of my car that says Proud Parent of a US Marine. I stuck it there myself when my youngest son entered boot camp. For a long time I drove around town feeling like a liar. What I needed was a sticker that said Puzzled Parent of a US Marine. Here was a kid who had every opportunity to go to college without the GI Bill. Plus he had a car, a comfortable room, a big-screen TV, and a surround-sound system that would do credit to a CineMark theater. (All of which he bought himself working as an assistant manager at Sears.) More importantly, he had a fairly functional family and terrific friends -- a couple of whom were of the beautiful female variety. This he traded for a motto that went Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body, a platoon of smelly fellow-recruits, and a drill instructor with pointy teeth who could have taken etiquette lessons from the Terminator. Most puzzling, he did it at a time when one or two or ten young Americans die each week on foreign soil. You know what? Forget puzzled. What I really needed was a sticker that said Petrified Parent of a US Marine.

In Matt’s second week of training, we received a letter from Robert C. Oaks that shifted my paradigm, at least a little. A former four-star general, Oaks is now a general authority in the LDS Church. He wrote: In these troubled times, it is heartwarming to see sons and daughters courageously step forward to help preserve our freedom and way of life. You can be proud of the part you played in molding Matt’s character. Courage and patriotism do not come automatically; they are planted in the hearts of children by their parents.

Excuse me? As much as I hate to argue with a general authority, the fact that I now have two sons serving in the military is not my fault. In fact, I suspect they have a genetic defect.

In the Spring of 1777, their ancestor, Philip Bonesteel, turned his back on his nobleman heritage in England to enlist as a Minuteman in fledgling New York. When the War of Independence drew to a close, he was twenty-two years old, homeless and penniless, but he was an American.

Fourscore and five years later, John Manche, an Indiana farmer, left his wife and two small children behind to serve in the Civil War. Later, desperately poor and still suffering from wounds received at Gettysburg, John received his first pension payment, along with a letter praising him for his courage on the field of battle. He sent the money back to Washington with a letter of his own that said: A man does not offer his life for the honor of other men. A Christian does not take the life of a brother for silver or gold. I fought, sirs, to preserve my country. That she still stands united is payment enough for me and mine.

My dad was an ordinary high school kid when Pearl Harbor was bombed and America entered its second World War. He coerced his widowed mother to sign papers allowing him to enlist before he graduated from high school or neared 18. He fought in Guam and the Philippines and was aboard a carrier when it was torpedoed on the open sea. He served through the end of WW II and then fought in Korea. (Very near where my oldest son serves today.) He was in the Navy for twenty-five years.

So, with all due respect to Elder Oaks, I blame those guys and men like them. Courage and patriotism do reside deep in my sons’ hearts -- as deep as they did in the hearts of their forefathers. Like Philip Bonesteel, they were determined to ignore the well-intentioned advice of parents and leave a comfortable home to enlist as freedom fighters. Like John Manche, they serve for the right reasons. (Although I do believe they cash their meager paychecks.) Like my father, they do their jobs wherever they are sent, knowing they could die in defense of their beliefs.

I’ve had that sticker I told you about on my car for a couple of years now. While I’m still petrified, I’m no longer puzzled. (Heck, I might even be proud.) There have been a lot of veterans in my family, patriotic men who stepped forward during the worst of times in our country’s history. How surprising should it be that there are yet two more in this generation?

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. They deserve a day -- and a whole lot more.

America Supports You


At 11/10/2006 12:55 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

As a fellow military mom, I share your mixed feelings. Through two tours of combat deployment, I've haunted my computer to see when he came online, lunged for the phone each time that distinctive "security" ring sounded,and spent a great deal of time on my knees. I've been glued to news programs at times and avoided them like the plague at other times. We flew to Washington DC when he was wounded to be with him at Walter Reed, been furious with protestors who try to disguise their cowardliness by encouraging our enemies and prolonging the war, and cherished each brief R & R. Though I fear for him and men like Kerry's sons and pray for peace, I'm just so incredibly proud of them. These sons are my heros.

At 11/10/2006 5:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll keep your boys in my prayers.

And not to cheapen the moment, but Philip Bonesteel. What an incredible name for a protagonist!

At 11/10/2006 5:48 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Kerry and Jennie, as two of the most amazing women I know it is no surprise to me at all that you have courageous children who stand up for what they believe in. My heart is constantly filled with gratitude for the men and women who protect our country.

I went through basic training and AIT but never had to perform combat duty, and that was hard enough. I don't think most people have any idea the kinds of sacrifices these kids (and parents) make daily.


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