My Daddy’s World


She used to tie her hair up in ribbons and bows, Sign her letters with X’s and O’s, She’s got a picture of her Mama in heels and pearls, She’s gonna make it in her Daddy’s World…She’s an American Girl.

I love this song by Trisha Yearwood.  In fact, I have joked on occasion that this song is really all about me, not that I am self-centered or anything, but it really is about me. 

My father was a United States Marine.  My grandfather was a WWI Army Veteran.  The military history of my family is very long, going back into the 1630 in this country.  I can’t say that it is distinguished in any way, just normal Americans doing what their country called them to do.  I was raised in the shadows Patriotism and being a part of something that was so much bigger than my little individual life.

My mother, on the other hand, was all about being a wife and mother.  I really do remember my mother in her heels and Jackie O pearls.  She scrubbed the kitchen floor every day and she was proud of that.

I’m certainly not minimizing the role of the housewife.  It was just not a life that I wanted.  I wanted my Daddy’s World.  I wanted to play short stop on the baseball team.  I wanted my life to be equal to the men around me.  In a very small town in the 1970’s, this was the impossible dream.

I will never forget the day that my father put me on the bus to basic training.  Small towns, small lives, things had changed very little.  I caught the bus at a small diner in a neighboring town.  We arrived early, caught a bit of breakfast, and sat and drank coffee waiting on the Greyhound.  My Daddy was so proud!  I remember him telling everyone that I was off to basic training.  He told stories to anyone who would listen about his father making the same trip with him and now it was his turn.

The bus finally arrived and the driver punched my ticket and dashed in to fill his thermos of coffee.  I kissed my mother.  My Daddy grabbed me in the biggest hug and with tears in his eyes said,

“I always knew I would put my son on the bus to basic training, but I never thought I would be doing this for my little girl.”

I wonder now, if he knew the cost that I have paid to follow in his footsteps, how he would feel about his decision to sign those papers.  I was only 17 years old and I had not even graduated high school yet.  Both of my parents are still alive but this is not something that I would ever share with them.  Not for all the money in the world.  It was my decision and had they not signed the papers, I would have signed them myself the day I turned 18.

I joined the Military for Patriotic reasons.  I also joined the Military because I was tired of hearing, “girls can’t do that.”  I believed that there was no other place in the whole world more equal that the US Military.  No one was going to call me a “girl” again, I would be a Soldier.  A female soldier, that is true, but still a soldier.  Everything required of a male soldier would be required of me so there would be no reason to discriminate just because I was female.

WOW!  Was I an idiot!  Not a first, it took some time before I discovered just how wrong I was.  Actually, it was my final two years on Active Duty, when I was informed that if “you were raped you should have given it up, if you were hit you should have shut up.”  All well and good, I suppose, after all it was my decision to marry the bastard.  Then I was lucky enough to be Clarence’s own personal play thing.  No longer was I a soldier, now I was just an object, with no where to turn.

The nurse at my Comp and Pen exam, after all was said and done for the day, asked me if I thought things had gotten better or worse for women in the military.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I believe that they have gotten much worse.  Please feel free to contradict me, that is just my feeling on the issue.  My first two years with the Reserve Component were awesome!  I had leadership that I adored.  I knew that when I “grew up” I wanted to be a leader just like they were. 

I remember my first weekend drill like it was yesterday.  My recruiter gave me the wrong dates, so I showed up with my Dad on Friday morning.  Although I was almost 24 hours early for my first drill, we were treated as though we were visiting dignitaries.  I was given a tour of the Armory, the 1SG came out and talked with my Dad for a long time.  The supply sergeant provided me with my first uniform and told me to take it home and to “look like a soldier” for first formation tomorrow. 

My Dad and I grabbed a bite to eat and then headed home.  We spent the rest of the day ironing and polishing boots.  Mom yelled, “Don’t you dare get any of the polish on my floor.”  Dad and I laughed, we had a special secret in a way, putting the first coats on a brand new set of combat boots.  Father passing on precious information to his child.  Sure, it is just a stupid pair of boots, but knowing how to get a good base and a slick shine is part of that “special knowledge” that only service members share.

My first drill was so much fun!  They had special classes that helped me to stand like a soldier, salute like a soldier, walk like a soldier.  My platoon members and NCO’s seemed so glad to pass on more of that “special knowledge.”  I will never forget my squad leader and platoon sergeant asking me at the end of the day,

“So, how long are you going to be in the military?  Are you a lifer yet?”

With absolute confidence I looked them in the eye and said, “Sergeant, I will be in the military until the day I die, or until they kick me out…whatever comes first!”

You ever look back and realize that something you said was so prophetic?  It was so right on the mark that it qualifies as beyond irony. 

After 16 1/2 years they kicked me out, but I will be a soldier until the day I die.

Joan

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