My father served in the military in World War II. He wasn’t an ambitious, fighting kind of guy; he was an unassuming Shakespeare scholar. Nonetheless, in 1942, leaving behind a masters degree in english literature and a valuable professorship, he joined the Second Air Force. He enlisted as a private, the lowest rank available.
Though he kept a low profile by working as a company payroll clerk, he was too well educated to avoid getting bumped up the ladder. Eventually the adjutant general spotted him and sent him to the Second Air Force chief of staff, General Nathan Bedford Forrest III, grandson of the first General Forrest, who had gained fame by having quite a few horses shot out from under him during the Civil War.
My father accepted his new assignment as assistant chief of staff for military composition. His primary duty was rewriting outgoing communications for the Second Air Force so that they made actual sense. Because his duties required accessing and composing top secret documents, it became necessary for him to have a rank somewhat higher than a private. So, for a few days, he was a corporal. That’s how long it took for General Forrest to decide he wanted my father to also be his personal aide.
So much for staying low. Because corporal isn’t a stuitable rank for a general’s personal aide, my father was immediately ushered off to Officer Candidacy School for proper credentialing. He hadn’t even gotten to be a sergeant. One week he was safely ensconced behind a desk as a private; the next week he was at OCS learning to be a lieutenant destined to be at the side of a general who was destined to go to battle. My father could have declined the promotion, but he didn’t. And as it turned out, it didn’t matter that he hadn’t turn down the dangerous assignment. Before my father finished his training at OCS, General Forrest got his plane shot out from under him–something that is much more difficult to survive than loosing a horse.
So, with no live general to aid, my mild-mannered father spent the remainder of the war as a sort of officer at large who, in the eyes of some, hadn’t really earned his bars. After a series of adventures and further promotions, he ended up as a troop commander, a captain, at a US base in British Guyana where not even the iguanas were afraid of him. His greatest enemies were mildew and dirty water. That was fine with him. Unlike some of his friends, he had survived the war and was never in range of angry bullets. And unlike the iguanas, he could trade the jungle for his home town and his old job teaching Shakespeare at a local university.
Life is good. For soldiers, life sometimes is good, then interrupted, then anxious, then over. But mostly, life is good, then interrupted, then anxious, then interesting, then good again. Here, but for the grace of God and vigilance–even hesitant vigilance–go we.
Nov. 13, 2012