Another Veteran's Day now gone. I am thankful for those who served, and serve, in the military. My father did. My grandfather did. My uncle, on my mother's side, died in Vietnam. I lived with my grandparents for my last three years of high school. It was the end of my being shuffled around to different relatives. During my senior year I had contacted the Navy about joining the ROTC program and was sent a letter with a date for an interview and physical exam, to be held in Cleveland. I was not sure where I was going to college at that point.
To backtrack a little, my high school English Dept. had selected me to be and entrant in a national contest sponsored by NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English. I wrote an essay and submitted it, along with a couple other pieces of work, and was one of the national winners. I forget how many were entrants, tens of thousands or something like that, but I was a winner. Within a few weeks I started receiving hundreds of letters from colleges from across the country, many written personally by someone representing the school. The phone rang like wild. I was a good student, so, in a way, I was going to have my choice of where to go. But to be in the ROTC program I would have to attend a certain college or university. That was to be determined.
The ROTC program was attractive because it was the promise of a job after graduation, and payment for college. My grandfather never said anything to me until the day before he was supposed to take me on the 3 hour Turnpike ride from Defiance to Cleveland. He was a big, crusty, overpowering man, a WWII Army Sergeant, who was once the driver of the lead jeep for General Bradley, in Europe. His description of the duty was to be the first in the convoy to be shot or blown up! Perhaps the most important thing ever determined for me was his decision to not take me to Cleveland. I remember the words. "You are not the military type. You are not good at taking orders. You have the gift of gab and that is not what they want in the military. I am not taking you there." He was right. Grants and scholarships paid for my education. Maybe he also knew that would happen. I don't know.
Anyway, back to the Veteran's Day beginning of this post. I have received numerous notes, messages and chats about how other people had the same kind of hardship and abuse growing up that I experienced. Many, or most, of those folks are a little older than me. They were almost exclusively the children of soldiers returning from WWII, and most had a much rougher childhood than I faced. It will seem blasphemous, but I need to say it. Perhaps the Greatest Generation was not so great, on the home front. Yes, they defeated the evil on the battlefield, but maybe, just maybe, it created an evil in them. I cannot imagine having to experience the horrors and loss of that war. Maybe they returned as victors, but what so many of them saw and heard and felt took something out of them. We ended up with decades of walls, iron curtains and cold wars, overseas and at home. And in the end, I place no blame. I have only my opinion. We are not animals that can kill, without remorse, for dominance of the pack or pride, nor can we see death and move on to the next meal or watering hole without emotion. We are humans. We are intelligent. We analyze. We are emotional. Regardless, Veterans deserve every ounce of respect we can give.
What does this have to do with writing? Again, an opinion that maybe is off base, but it seems to me that people who had difficult lives as children generally have more to write about. Whether they spent time hiding physically or emotionally, when the light finally shines on them there is a need to let all that past out. Sometimes it is easy, most often it is not. I suppose that is why I so often get the question about my writing being cathartic.