18. Bill

This scenario and others subtitled with a generic man’s name are fictitious. However, they are based on accumulated understandings about husbands either depicted in literature or real life.

My name is Bill. My wife’s name is Patricia.  Seeking forgiveness is the most difficult experience of my life.

Television in the late 1950s often filled afternoon time slots with old movies. Many were westerns and war movies from the 1930s and 40s. On hot summer days I would sometimes stay inside and watch them on my family’s 17-inch Sylvania Halo Light.

One day I saw a 1941 movie titled Sergeant York. It was a biopic of a man named Alvin York, who transitioned from being a conscientious objector to decorated hero in World War I.

Alvin was a young Christian man living in rural Tennessee when he was drafted to serve in the American infantry. He became very conflicted about the reasons he was given so many accolades.

The killing or capture of hundreds of German soldiers.

The movie was well done. It was used to help elevate patriotic enthusiasm for our country to get involved in World War II.

Until the Pearl Harbor attack, many Americans wanted nothing more to do with foreign wars. Pearl Harbor, along with patriotic movies like Sergeant York, changed everyone’s attitude almost overnight.

————–

We are products of both our era and our culture. In the late 1950s I was enrolled in the ROTC program at my high school.

Only boys participated. And it was popular.

Although the stalemate of the Korean War was discouraging, our nation was clearly leading in the Cold War.

The decade of the 1950s also saw a continuation or resurgence of both religious beliefs and dedication to service. I was caught up in both because of church activities and summer camps. It was also a time when programs sponsored by the Boy Scouts and YMCA were a tremendous influence on young men from certain segments of society.

I was one of them.

My future wife, Patricia, graduated from high school in 1960 when I did. Both of us decided to attend a local vocational/technical school. She was trained in the culinary arts and I learned how to become a diesel mechanic. Patricia’s parents owned a restaurant and she planned to work there after graduating from the two-year program.

I was always a good mechanic. And the growth of the American trucking industry seemed like a terrific opportunity for me.

The military draft was something young men needed to take into consideration. While in the vocational/technical school I was able to get a deferment, so that allowed me to plan for both a vocation and family life.

Patricia and I were married the summer of 1963. I found good employment and, as expected, Patricia worked in her parents’ restaurant. In September we learned we were expecting our first child.

We joined a church. We liked its emphasis on strong moral values, allegiance to Christ’s teachings, and belief in the salvation Jesus gave us by sacrificing his life and rising from the dead. The congregation was also committed to service of all kinds and filled with World War II veterans.

It seemed right for the cross to be directly in front, with the American flag prominently displayed on the right. Belief in God through Jesus Christ and belief in American values.

What could be better?

————

The military draft began looming large in our minds. Everything in the world seemed so unsettled, especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis. And we kept hearing about the little war in Southeast Asia — how our country might become involved.

It was in a small nation we had never heard about. Vietnam.

Patricia and I had long talks about our future. I thought my skills as a diesel mechanic would be of great value to the army. But veterans at church said I would be less likely to be given that assignment if I waited to be drafted. It would be better to enlist.

So, I did.

Patricia and our newborn daughter were welcome to stay at her parents’ home until I could arrange for them to join me in a suitable deployment.  My three-year stint in the army would begin with basic training in the fall of 1964.

After basic training I was given my MOS, or military occupational specialty. In the paperwork, I stressed my talent and training as a mechanic.

But I made the mistake of mentioning my skills as a marksman during the high school ROTC days. Like Alvin York of World War 1, I was a crack shot with a rifle — with many awards to prove it.

Veterans in my church said my skills as a diesel mechanic would be valued stateside or in Germany, because all the new M-60 tanks were diesel.

But unfortunately, they were not the officials making job assignments in the regular army.

Those people thought I would be better suited to be a sniper.

I objected to receiving that assignment. To no avail.

About a year later I was sent to Vietnam and assigned to infantry units as a sniper. In today’s military such an arbitrary assignment would be seriously reviewed on many levels.

However, in 1965 that wasn’t true. Assignments were made where soldiers with special skills were most needed.

My job was to kill individual human beings classified as the enemy. Thoroughly camouflaged and from hidden locations.

My job was to bring down the morale of the enemy, to disrupt its leadership, and to save lives of my fellow Americans who could be killed by enemy soldiers in machine gun nests.

From trees. Coming out of tunnels. Dropping mortar shells on our lines.

My job was to spread fear and confusion.

Yes, I received medals for my work. I rose to the rank of staff sergeant. My assignment after a year in Vietnam was as an instructor of novice snipers. And my discharge from the army was honorable.

Thou shall not kill.

How could I reconcile the meaning of the cross and American flag in our church? Only a few feet apart. To me I was both a patriot and a sinner.

With treatment for my PTSD I eventually did some of that reconciling. And Patricia was always there when I woke up from my nightmares. She told me time after time I was not a sinner and that she loved me.

We prayed together often. She held my hand when I begged God for forgiveness. Without Patricia and our God, I would not have survived those years. She helped me believe God is ever present in our lives.

Now that woman who saved my life in so many ways is fading away. And God seems to be going with her.

Did God abandon us by giving her Alzheimer’s?

Our children came out okay, for which I’m grateful. But they live far away. Patricia has gone to a memory care facility.

And I’m alone with my demons. With a feeling God has not forgiven me for my sins.

Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.

©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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