Boys who become men overnight through the agency of the combat experience become very aware of death and lose the advantage of their peers who can shrug at scars because they never felt a wound.
For the young, inexperienced in the arena of mortality, death is seldom a reality. When one is young, one lives forever and the thought of the end seldom enters the mind.
Those who have not heard the dull thwack of a bullet colliding with flesh, or haven't been spattered with devastated human meat, or who can never shut out the screams of men who welcome death as a painkiller seldom become aware of how life might end.
The pilots flying off carrier decks who wonder if they will ever get back, whether "Mama" will be there, and airmen far over the fields of combat know it can end instantly in an explosion they will never hear.
Sailors in combat know it is useless to be able to swim -- the nearest land is probably two miles away . . . straight down.
All the possibilities are fear inducing. And perhaps it is youth that can handle the fear best. Perhaps within them still lurks the idea that "it can't be me." The sense of self is so strong it engenders courage.
For it is only the strong of heart who can take it.
Of all those called to service when war is rampant, very few experience combat. Initially, all are vulnerable. Choice and selection very often is luck of the draw, fate, rub of the green; who really knows?
It is worth remembering that this day, two days from now, used to be called Armistice Day. It has been re-named into an all-embracing Veterans Day. And probably for good reason.
The thing is, the war that gave rise to this day to remember, World War I (which got its name some 25 years or so after it ended; it was called the "Great War" in its time), sent young fellows from the countries of Europe and England marching off to war with bands playing and flags and pennants flowing in the breeze.
You see the old films and you can feel the excitement, the romance, the elan, the spirit. For King and Country; fuer Kaiser und Vaterland. Hurrah!
And then it settled down to the mud, blood, misery, dreck, noise, horror of the trenches. The bands were gone and all flags were in tatters.
When the Americans came, in April, 1917, they were there to make the difference; to balance the scales just that much to tip the advantage to England, France and Italy.
Germany, of course, was treated dreadfully; really made to suffer and this, in turn, provided the nurturing ground for the seed of Adolf Hitler and the years from 1918 to 1939, it turned out, were just years of interregnum.
Three big wars for us Americans have been experienced since those days of the "war to end all wars."
Those of us of a certain age remember the Armistice Day parades, the sale of poppies (in memory of Flanders Field where so many fell; where Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig turned the soil to mud, not in rain, but in English blood, to gain 100 yards), the speeches, the music. It prepared us for the proceedings that began December 7, 1941.
Now we honor those who fell for the flag on Memorial Day. Sometimes the two days are confused.
The holiday on Saturday is called Veterans Day because there is not enough room on the calendar to have all the memorializing days we need.
All Veterans - combat or no - are honored.
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