We consider ourselves winners rather than “losers” and “suckers.”2 Although I will admit that from the perspective of a man alleged to have inherited millions from his father, I might have looked like a loser in 1953. After one year at a Baptist college in Mississippi,3 I enlisted in the U. S. Army in May of 1953 as a Pvt E-1 during the hostilities of the Korean Conflict. Some months later (July 1953), while I was in Basic Training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, military leaders signed a “cease-fire” order at Panmunjom. A few months later as the honor graduate of an Army Leadership School at Ft Lee, Virginia, I was given my choice of area of assignment. I chose the European Theater, where I served the rest of my initial three years of military obligation in Germany at Headquarters Southern Area Command (with five years reserve duty remaining to my enlistment). The rest of my class was assigned to the Far East Command (Korea). I returned from Europe in 1956 with the GI Bill in hand and a wife (now of 65 years), who was pregnant with our first child and we headed back to college. Supported by the GI Bill I completed college in 1958 (B. A.) and Theological Seminary in 1962 (B. D.) in California. While serving as pastor of First Baptist Church, Needles, California (1962-65), I applied for and received a direct commission from the President as a Reserve Commissioned Officer (Chaplain) on the 8th of September 1964. Why did I join the Army again? I wanted to serve my country—and besides I liked the professionalism and camaraderie of military life.
Volunteers who choose to continue their military service as soldiers in the active reserve force think of themselves as citizen-soldiers. They work in their civilian occupations or careers, but one weekend each month they put on the uniform and train in their MOS.4 At least two weeks every year they serve a tour of active duty working at the military job they trained to do. Citizen-soldiers are required to take additional time away from civilian jobs to go through military schools to qualify for promotion and retention in the service, which again takes them away from family and civilian jobs. In addition, they may also be called up to active duty for special tours anywhere in the world where the military needs their skills. They are paid commensurate with their rank and if they elect to continue this demanding schedule for at least 20 years, upon retirement they are paid a retirement stipend, receive medical coverage for life for them and their spouse, and all the other benefits that active duty soldiers receive. In the event of a national emergency, like the Roman farmer, Cincinnatus,5 they are subject to “activation” to serve wherever the military assigns them for the duration of the war or the duration of the emergency. I was activated for Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and served 7 months as a Colonel (Chaplain) in the Personnel Office of the Chief of Chaplains at the Pentagon (Washington), to which I was assigned as a Mobilization Designee in reserve status. This meant leaving my family and civilian occupation abruptly in the middle of the academic year. I was a tenured faculty member at Missouri State University, and the university had to cover my classes at the last moment. My salary and benefits at the university stopped and I and my family were completely dependent on the Army for salary and medical benefits. My service to the country came at the cost of a disruption to my academic career and to my family (I left behind a wife with a severely broken ankle). When hostilities began, I had no idea how long the war and separation from home would last.
Citizen-soldiers are members of the National Guard and the U. S. Military Reserve that serve as a ready reserve force for the U. S. Military in times of National emergency.6 To understand why they do it, Mr. Trump, one must first understand patriotism. I have found that career soldiers, both Regulars and Reserve, are motivated to choose a profession of arms out of a sense of patriotism; they continue patriotically serving their country from a sense of professionalism. Still don’t get it? Ask a soldier!
Chaplain (Colonel), USAR, retired
*This essay is one of those rare occasions where a current issue has motivated me to stray into politics. It has nothing to do with religion except that the author is a retired U. S. Army Chaplain with thirty years’ service.
2It has been confirmed by several different media outlets that President Trump referred to members of the military who are killed in the course of their service as “losers” and “suckers.” This is the article that started the flap: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/09/trump-americans-who-died-at-war-are-losers-and-suckers/615997/
3Since I had no financial resources to continue my education the next fall, I enlisted in the Army to secure the educational benefits of the GI Bill—an excellent choice for me.
4MOS, Military Occupational Specialty.
5Cincinnatus was a Roman patrician, statesman, and military leader of the early Roman Republic who was called from his plow to serve the Roman State. At the end of the crisis he returned to his plow.
I don't come from a military family per se. My brother was drafted during the Viet Nam war. So I really appreciated your detailed discussion of the motivation, commitments, obligations, and benefits involved in your own military service history.
My two brothers were career military as was my sister's husband (my brother-in-law). But if I stop and think about it: education and the military were the two ways that youth in Greenville, Mississippi found their futures--at least it turned out to be that way for us.
My father, all of my four uncles, and my aunt either served in the Army, Navy, WACS, or Air Force (2) during WWII or Korea. My eyesight is so bad (only one eye works) they didn't want me at the very tail end of Viet Nam, when the Armed Forces were gearing up for the volunteer Army. Trump doesn't understand any motivation other than "self." His attitude toward those in the Armed Forces (Gold Star families, John McCain, the various generals he chose to work in the White House)tells one much more about his shortcomings than anything else. The remarks you mentioned above show how ill equipped he is to be a leader.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Apologies to my uncle on my mom's side. (I can't edit here.) He served during Korea.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Thank you for your service and, as always, for your scholarship and teaching! I knew you were in the Army, but it's interesting to hear the breadth of your service. One more reason to admire you. :)
My dad was a paratrooper in WWII (82nd Airborne) and was blown up in France; he was awarded the Purple Heart for his service. Having come from a desperately poor family, he, too, took advantage of the GI bill, earned degrees in chemistry, raised a family of seven children, and contributed to his community. Definitely not what I would consider a loser or a sucker.
Thank you for your blog - I read every post, even if I don't always comment.
I hope you and family are well - I miss seeing you on campus!
Thanks for this post on your military background, Charles. I appreciate military service and patriotism.
I do miss being on campus occasionally and particularly having the resource of the library available!
With respect to your dad: He was clearly a winner!
Good Evening Charlie,
My grandfather (now deceased) was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force during the Vietnam war and was a helicopter pilot. He had the privilege of transporting three US presidents: LBJ, Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon. Till the day he died, he slept with his arm around the bedpost of his bed because he was trained to sleep with a firearm in his possession at all times during combat. As a kid, that was most intriguing to me. My sisters and I were treated to many war stories about his service in Okinawa and Saigon and Malaysia... At the ages of 4, 6, and 8 no less... We were a captive audience in his white VW as we rode around Fort Worth Texas listening to the events of his military career as a pilot carrying the dead and wounded to "hospitals." (very primitive compared to our facilities.) He had to clean up those stories when my grandmother was present, but rest assured- we girls much preferred the saltier version. (Still do.)
My husband's father (still living) served in the Marines during the Korean War. He must have had nine lives... There isn't enough space here to describe what he survived. He was sent by the UN after the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in N. Korea to evacuate remaining survivors of that brutal campaign on board the very last trains out of that country in 1950. I'm sure you know how severely cold it was- so cold that when some men removed their boots, their toes remained inside stuck to the shoe. My father in law was one of the very last Marines to board the last train out of Hungnam... He said he was so cold he could not stand up. So he lay on the ground unable to move as the train started to leave. He knew he would die. At the very last minute, a fellow Marine jumped down from the train and got him on his feet somehow- and then proceeded to load him onto that train before it left.
He never told that story to my husband (your former student Craig) until just a few months ago.
Good Evening Charlie- Part Two:
Both my grandfather and my father in law suffered from what is today known as "PTSD." Had more been known about that condition, both of them would have had much better health outcomes and less suffering near the end of their lives. And it would have helped their spouses as well because back then- very little was known about that mental condition. Both of their spouses did the best they could to cope with the after effects of brutal combat and horrific scenes of bloodshed. For the record, alcohol is not much a of help in dealing with past mental images that haunt these brave men who served our country. But I don't hold it against them- I'd have turned to the bottle myself in that situation.
Regarding the supposed comments made by our President of the United States... Who witnessed him making these comments? What are their names- do you even care? Or is that not important to you? In what branch did they serve in and what rank did they hold? Can you answer that? No of course you can't because they are hiding like cowards behind the shroud of secrecy... Is that courageous? Is that what a true leader does- or does a leader take the heat? President Trump can be called a lot of things but he's no coward. He made controversial comments about John McCain and had the cahones to take the arrows that ensued. Are these supposed men taking the arrows?? Or are they cowering in the corner sucking their collective thumbs in anonymity? The author of the Atlantic article, Jeffery Goldberg, claims they were scared of being "roasted on Twitter." My grandfather and father in law would NOT be afraid of getting roasted on Twitter, I can assure you of that. What an insult to their service to this country that you would give those childish cowardly claims about Trump the time of day.
How can you absolutely know with certainty those four anonymous sources are telling the truth when 19 other people who were present in France (including John Bolton) contradict those statements? Even Jeffery Goldberg (who authored that piece of trash) now says those anonymous sources "may have been wrong."
Go sell crazy somewhere else- we're not buying it. Elizabeth Holmes
Was the Cincinnatus you mentioned in your essay the same one Suetonius mentioned in The 12 Caesars, Gaius Caligula, chapter 35? Here is the quote: “He took from all the noblest of the city the ancient devices of their families, from Torquatus his collar, from Cincinnatus his lock of hair, from Gnaeus Pompeius the surname Great belonging to his ancient race”? (I was doing some research for an offshoot of an essay I’m writing and came across that sentence, speaking of the brutality of Gaius.)I'm thinking it probably wasn't, but it was interesting to come across the name just after reading your blog.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
I guess that it likely was. The name Cincinnatus means curly haired as I found out from several sources. But I cannot verify that it was (i.e., "lock of hair")..
Thanks... I find from my endnotes Caligula was bald. Later in the aforementioned chapter when he encountered one with a good looking head of hair he'd shave the back of their head.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
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