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A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Saying thanks on Memorial Day

Looking back, I was a chicken.
There was Walter Cronkite presenting the nightly scoreboard on the CBS Evening News. He would give the tally of how many North Vietnamese had died, and how many Americans.
Right away I knew I never wanted to become part of the tally. By then, the war in Vietnam had become extremely unpopular. It was really our first televised war, and I saw all I wanted on the RCA with the 12-inch screen in our living room.
You didn’t need high definition to define fear and that is what I felt.
Some of my oldest brother, Tom’s, friends had been drafted. Some had gone from suburbs to Ssoutheast Asia in an awful hurry. At least one had decided to head to Canada. There were FBI agents at his parents’ house on a mighty regular basis.
By the time I turned 18, there was no longer a draft. It was a lottery and I swear on the resume of Bob Barker it was one with potentially deadly results.
That initial lottery drawing – the first since 1942 – was held on December 1, 1969, in Washington D.C. There were 366 blue plastic capsules containing birth dates placed in a large glass container and drawn by hand to assign order-of-call numbers to all men within the 18-26 age range.
The capsules were drawn from a container, opened, and the dates inside posted in order.
My personal lottery came a few years later. I was born in 1954. A group of us gathered together at Albion College to see where the numbers would fall. My birthday was September 17, and the assigned number was 320.
I was ecstatic and now all these years later, I am a little bit ashamed of myself.
I have a great life and how many others never got that chance? War has taken some of this country’s best and brightest.
They say freedom isn’t free, and that could not be more spot on. As a country, we have paid dearly, and continue to play dearly, for our freedom.
I remember being 18 and not knowing exactly what the future held. Was I going to Vietnam? Was I going to be one of Walter Cronkite’s tally?
I had played Taps at a handful of funerals for servicemen who had died in Vietnam when I was in high school, so I certainly was aware of the potential consequences.
I’d done the same in front of the veteran’s memorial in my hometown following the Memorial Day parade.
Memorial Day was Monday, and it wasn't t too much to ask to spend an hour or two watching a local parade. I stood up and saluted the flag. I said thanks to a veteran, a guy with long gray hair and a beard to match. I said a prayer for those who are no longer with us.
They served so I did not have to. They answered the call so I could stay home and play football and basketball and baseball.
My dad was in the Navy in World War II. My wife’s dad was a Marine in WWII.
That was the extent of our family’s military involvement. I never served. My brothers never served. None of my kids are currently in the military, either.
I went to a parade on Monday. I went to the veterans memorial. I stood there while Taps was  played. I listened to the speeches and watched the plane fly by and felt a little undeserving.
I have had a great life. I have a great wife and four great kids. Some others never got the chance.


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