Douglas McIntire

Douglas McIntire

Cold war kids were hard to kill
Under their desks in an air raid drill
Haven’t they heard we won the war
What do they keep on fighting for?
— Billy Joel

It’s unheard of now, I know, but we used to play war when I was a kid. Behind Windorf Circle, in the woods, fortifications were built and kids chased each other with branch rifles and pine cone hand grenades. None of us grew up to be psychopaths, as far as I know.

We were children of the Cold War living in a military community. We were raised to be prepared for the next big conflict with the Soviet Union and in the woods, we trained for Armageddon.

We were toddlers when we absorbed the news footage from Vietnam — the bloody and the broken being loaded on helicopters. We didn’t play Vietnam though. Maybe it was just too soon. Maybe it was because society around us didn’t speak of it — refused to see it and in turn, pushed it all away.

No, we played popular war, like World War II. There, we fought the Germans and the Japanese to our heart’s content.

Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh! … Got you, Chris!”

Chris would fall down clutching his chest but not before lobbing a pine cone and emitting a scratchy, explosion sound from somewhere in his throat.

Speed forward another 12 years and a somewhat older version of me sat in a briefing room where we all uttered the same question, “What the hell is a Kuwait?”

Something must have gone wrong. We were raised to fight the Soviets — we were brought up on visions of Siberia and Eastern Europe — Red Dawn and War Games, not sand and desert. Still, we remembered Grenada and Panama and figured this would be another walk in the park. That was 25 years ago this Jan. 16.

Me and my crew, we played up our part and stayed relatively safe. In the many years since then, I’ve interviewed dozens veterans who have cycled through the Middle East since — kids really. After all, wasn’t my crew a bunch of kids when Desert Storm broke out?

Still I talked to them; young men and women irrevocably damaged by what they’ve been through. I hear their stories and they ask me if I’m a veteran — I tell them I served. I’ve often wondered why I fall back to that term and honestly, it’s because I don’t want to identify myself as an equal and my only explanation is it all came down to guilt.

If there’s one thing we hated in the Navy, it was a skate — someone who left everyone else to pick up their slack. And me? I got up, put on my uniform and did my job and was allowed to walk blissfully away when it was over.

It’s the level of sacrifice my duty allowed me to blissfully avoid. It’s the reason I feel uncomfortable when someone thanks me for my service. It’s when I look into the eyes of these vets, young enough to be my kids and realize I was safe and sound and didn’t finish the job that was then passed down to them. They had to pick up my slack for a lack of better terms.

Why was I safe and not them? It’s not a rational thought, I know, but it’s a persistent one nonetheless. Maybe it’s because so many of them today could be my son or daughter — I really don’t know.

I once covered a Veteran’s Day celebration and thought I would wear my old USS Constellation cap for the occasion. I ended up talking to a man who was on Omaha Beach and survived the Battle of the Bulge. I immediately removed my cap.

In July, my youngest, Keagan, will become the fifth generation of my family to join the Navy as a Seabee with aspirations of someday becoming a SEAL. While I wish my son safety and comfort, I’m also proud he’ll be part of a tradition that began with his great-great grandfather who sailed the world in the Great White Fleet.

When he was young, I took him to the sacred grounds where I played war against the Soviets all those years ago. As for him — he’ll be entering the service amid the same war he was born into.

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