Thursday, March 02, 2006

Life in the Army: the Childhood of BigCityLib

In which BigCityLib takes a break from smiting Conservatives, and reminisces about the forces that made him what he is today.

My brother and I were army brats.

My dad served in the Canadian Forces from the early Fifties, through when my brother and I were born in the Sixties, up until about 1974 or 1975. When we were growing up we were never faced with the prospect of Dad going off to an actual war, unless you count Cypress, where he served a couple of times as a peacekeeper.

(Actually, you can't count Cypress as an real war. The only injury in my Dad's unit (PPCLI) came when one of his buddies slammed a locker door on his hand and took off the tip of his pinky. Cypress was Greeks vs. Turks, neither side of which has won a war in 500 years, and apparently they liked to knock off any serious fighting before lunchtime. Dad says that if a couple of peacekeepers came up and asked them to stop, for example, digging a trench, they would do it gladly enough, and head home to suck back some Ouzo. Dad says that the only trouble he ever ran into was when one of his officers had to point his rifle at a Turk. The Turk backed down, but the officer then pulled the bolt open to demonstrate that there had been no shell in the chamber, that he had been bluffing. The Turk complained to his own commanding officer, and our guy was sent home by the U.N. for showing disrespect to the locals. Apparently Turks don't mind having a gun pointed at their head, as long as its loaded. It's a manliness thing.

Not that my dad didn't see action, but that was back in Korea. He doesn't ever, ever talk about that, except very occasionally when he is drunk with his old buddies.

Apparently his unit was patrolling up somewhere in the mountains of Korea, and it was late at night, and Dad was on watch. He heard whispering in foreign tongues coming from behind the Canadian line, informed his Lieutenant, and they figured that the North Koreans had snuck around behind and were setting up for an ambush. So they woke up the rest of the guys and got the Canadian line, machine gun and everything, turned around and facing ass backwards.

So when the Chinamen came over the top they got slaughtered. Our boys were using bolt action rifles, so they didn't get sawed into big splatty pieces like you see on tv nowadays. Mostly they just dropped, as though they had tripped on stones.

Dad keeps a little square of paper in a ceramic jar with korean symbols on the lid. It's a cutout from an old army daily, and says that the whole North Korean unit, 29 men, was destroyed. Dad's old PPCLI buddies used to argue about who had shot who, although there was only guy who could 100% for certain connect his rifle to a specific dead Chinese. Anyway, dad always stayed out of those arguments, thinking they were a bit tasteless. Later, he took up hunting, but gave up after a few tries, saying that he always felt sorry for the animals.)

In any case, my brother and I never had to worry too much about dad getting his brains shot out overseas. We did have to worry about having our butts hauled back and forth across the country every six months as Dad got posted here there and everywhere. If I remember correctly, it was Vancouver, to Victoria, to Vancouver, to Edmonton, to Calgary, to Base Borden outside of Stayner Ontario, to Oromocto, New Brunswick, and then back to Victoria, at which point Dad said to hell with this and retired from the service. I was just finishing grade five at the time.

Though Dad was in the forces 25 years, he never recommended it as a career choice for myself or my brother. In fact, it was the kind of thing he said he'd worked all his life so we could avoid doing. Not that I was particularly tempted.

But of course you are the sum of your history, and my beliefs and values have been shaped by having lived in an army family. One thing I have found is that Veterans have lived lives far less trivial than the run of the mill, and it makes them tolerant in all sorts of non-obvious ways. For example, if you've spent a lot of time being shot at,then the issue of whether two guys want to get tutti-fruity together in the privacy of their own home seems like very small potatoes. And though the current war in Iraq has been a strategic and political disaster, the one good thing to come out of it for America will be a crop of men and women who have found at least a little more Wisdom than is usually the case.

BigCityLib, Rockin' the Net.

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