Over the Hill

Phil Dirkx: Honoring the warrior, not the war

The information screen at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport said “Delayed,” where we expected to see a departure time for our daughter, Sandy. She’d been visiting us this summer.

So, we had time to watch four young men, more or less, occupying the waiting room seats across from ours. One slept stretched out on three seats. One sat thumbing an electronic device. Two mainly wandered.

They looked like boys I’d known in high school or the Army. They seemed vaguely military, although they certainly weren’t in uniform.

Eventually Sandy asked one of the wanderers if they were in the military. He said they were from an Army Reserve unit in the Midwest, and had taken their two-week training at Fort Hunter Liggett near King City.

Sandy said, “Thank you for your service.”

I told them I’d spent some time at Hunter Liggett during the Korean War. I was stationed at Camp Roberts, and we took basic-trainees to Hunter Liggett for their two-week bivouacs.

As you probably know, a bivouac is when you sleep in your clothes on the ground in two-man tents and don’t take baths. I suppose they’re still the same.

One young man came over, shook my hand, and said, “Thank you for your service.”

I didn’t detect a smirk or sneer, so I decided he wasn’t being sarcastic. I gladly took his gesture at face value.

I probably said something about having been drafted, not serving by choice, but I was truly pleased. I’d never been thanked before for my service.

That isn’t exactly true. In 1998, my class from Officer Candidate School held a reunion in Branson, Mo. At a show there, the star, maybe Tony Orlando, asked us to stand, and then complimented us.

Also, once at a Veterans Day observance at Paso Robles Cemetery, the master of ceremonies asked veterans from each branch of service to stand. I felt honored to stand with the other Army veterans.

Maybe that was the Veterans Day when I was asked to be the speaker. I ended my speech by saying I hoped that someday we wouldn’t have any more wartime veterans, because that would mean we wouldn’t have had any more wars.

That isn’t an entirely crazy hope. Look at the Census report that came out this week. At the end of 2008, America’s living veterans numbered about 22.5 million. That’s almost four million fewer than in the 2000 Census.

Yes, we miss those wartime veterans who’ve left us, but we can feel hopeful because we aren’t replacing them as fast.

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.