This past Christmas I held my first grandson for the first time. I think that nothing can bring about one’s sense of mortality like the experience of holding that first grandchild.
Asher still had that new baby smell. He looked at Papaw with an unsure look in his eye, but an infant must have a sense of family. He didn’t cry. He settled into my arms and for the next two days only cried when he was hungry or had a wet diaper.
Looking into his eyes brought about a feeling of mortality, but it was a satisfied feeling….that feeling that I can let go now; that my name and bloodline will be carried on. I can live (or not) satisfied. I wonder if some day he’ll want to know about Papaw. I’m trying to leave enough of an ether trail that he can track me down if he chooses. If he does, he’ll certainly learn about the men I served with and what we did and how we served. I certainly hope he does. They are all unsung heroes.
I messaged with my oldest friend this evening. We were talking about trying to get together for the Tennessee/Oklahoma football game in Knoxville later this year. I haven’t seen Bill in probably ten years, but we always keep in touch. We’ve both made horrendous mistakes in our personal lives, but unlike me, Bill rose to the very pinnacle of our profession. He was (and in my mind still is) the very personification of a professional soldier and tanker. A tanker in the 2nd Infantry Division, a member of the Audie Murphy Club, an M1 Master Gunner, Master Gunner for a winning CAT (Canadian Army Trophy) team, combat vet in Desert Storm, he retired a Command Sargent Major.
I knew him when he was a young Specialist 4 and my tank driver. Later, we became neighbors. We babysat each other’s kids. We watched out for each other. Bill chose a different path than I did. I think that he couldn’t not succeed at anything he did. Even though we went separate ways, we always managed to maintain that sense of family that every member of an Armor unit knew. Bill was, and still is my oldest and dearest friend.
Chatting with Bill tonight, it occurred to me that we old soldiers are fading away like every generation must surely do. There are still quite a few of us around from Uncle Ronnie’s army, but we are certainly getting much older. Most of my buddies from my generation of the nineteen-eighties have grandchildren now. I have no idea how or when this happened. I told Bill tonight that if I’d known I would live this long, I would have certainly taken better care of myself. He agreed.
I suppose I’ve written all this to say that I’m very, very concerned. I worry for my Army and ultimately for my country. Probably every generation of soldiers (sailors and marines too, I suppose) worries that the succeeding generation won’t be tough enough to face the challenges that their generation faced. I certainly won’t compare us to The Greatest Generation or the generation that fought the thankless war in Korea. I’ve met a lot of Vietnam vets and won’t let my generation take a backseat to them; different time, different mission.