There are three kinds of family vacations in the photo albums of my childhood:
- Me and my brother in front of a canon/tank/large weapon
- Me and my brother on/in front of a submarine
- Me and my brother wearing t-shirts purchased on a battleship while standing in a museum really close to a military base
My father was a military man. Navy, to be precise.
He lied about his age and got himself enlisted in time to fight in WWII. (There’s a small journal full of notes and “After” photos of Hiroshima in my mom’s closet to prove it. All sorts of totally depressing surprises in that closet. You’ve been warned.)
He was active in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
I was born the year after Vietnam ended. He went into the reserves, and missed being active in the military a lot. A LOT a lot.
Which meant that while all of my friends hit amusement parks, beach houses and Disney World during family vacations, we spent the 1980s & 90s touring every military base, military museum, retired battle ship, grounded submarine and memorial dedicated to those who served in the military within a seven hour drive radius of Massachusetts.
These were the least cool vacations I could ever have imagined as a kid.
I ended up with an absurd knowledge of proper submarine protocol and a mental library of military weapons used in the past hundred or so years. Very useful for a 12 year old girl, dontcha think?
But who was I to complain?
Ever try to complain about preferences to a guy who strolled around post A-Bomb Japan, was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and lost part of his hearing when a grenade blew up his friend right next to him in Korea? No?? Yeah, well…you don’t get too far with the Wah Wah Wah with that guy.
As mind-bendingly boring as most of it was at the time, I did come out of my childhood with a reverence for the American flag and a deep respect for those who served in the military, particularly POWs. I can spot an old dude in a military hat from a mile away.
(I also was completely ruined for fireworks displays. No one – NO ONE – does a better job at fireworks then the crazy military guys did in the 80s. It’s all been ho-hum for me ever since.)
So today, on Memorial Day here in the USA, it is quite fitting that Husband and I took the kids into NYC to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which is based on and in a real WWII aircraft carrier, the Intrepid.
I was secretly cranky to be there. I thought my military-themed vacation days were over. I may have even pouted a couple times on the way there.
But Husband kept saying This is so cool! That is SO COOL! at the Intrepid itself, the jets on the hangar, the instrument panels inside. And though all that is old news for me (Been There. Done That. Had like a Thousand of the T-Shirts), seeing him and the kids so excited to be on an aircraft carrier and get close to all the aircraft inside and jumping up and down together saying how awesome it all was, was…pretty cool.
To be able to remember what different parts of the aircraft carrier were, and know when it was in use off the top of my head impressed the kids and Husband. Pointing out little things here and there and explaining them, having answers to the kids’ questions without even thinking about it was…pretty cool.
I had many issues with my father (and really would have liked to have gone to Disney World as a kid) but at least all those trips to look at old ships and stand in front of enormous anchors next to my brother were finally useful.
Even if it took a couple decades to be so, the looks on the faces of my three favorite people on that aircraft carrier made it totally worth the wait.
It seems I owed my father a Thank You for giving me something positive I could share with my kids. A memorial to someone who gave a lot to his country, and left a legacy that managed to impress a couple little kids on a big ship two generations later.
Thank You to all of you who have served or are serving in the military.
I salute you for your dedication to your country, and hope some day your kids will remember all the stuff you taught them about submarines/aircraft carriers/fighter jets when they have kids of their own. Thank you.