Proud to Serve: A Veteran’s Day Story

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he author's Uncle Greg during World War II. Photo: Patricia Beatley-Patterson
The author's Uncle Greg during World War II. Photo: Patricia Beatley-Patterson

As Veteran’s Day approaches, I have been thinking about some of the veterans in my family. My father had a leg injury which prevented him from serving in World War II, but my stepfather and my father-in-law both saw action in the Navy at that time. My stepfather flew planes off an aircraft carrier, and had the cockiness that only a fighter pilot could have. My father-in-law was a radio operator on the flagship U.S.S. Texas, which saw its share of action in the war. He was humble but proud. They both lived long lives – long enough to see their grandchildren enter this world. My father-in-law even took his grandkids to Texas to visit his former ship.

There was also Uncle Greg, my mother’s twin, who was an Army infantryman during WWII. I have a black and white photograph of him looking sharp in his uniform and polished shoes, holding his rifle. An ammunition belt is around his waist and he is smiling. In May 1943 the Army launched an attack against the Japanese held island of Attu in the Aleutians. On the final day of the battle, May 29th, the Japanese made a surprise Banzai raid and my Uncle Greg was killed. He was only 19.

With Greg’s death, my mother lost her best friend and my grandmother became a Gold Star mother. The term was coined in World War I, but with hundreds of thousands of Americans losing their lives in the two world wars, I imagine that being a gold star family was not as big a deal then as it is today, though I’m sure that it didn’t hurt any less. I don’t know if my grandmother was given a folded flag, but the Army did give her my uncle’s Purple Heart, which was awarded posthumously. After my grandmother’s death and then my mother’s, I now have the medal. My uncle’s full name, George G. Gallishaw, is inscribed on the back. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in grave number 5538.

My ex-husband Bill was also a veteran and served in Vietnam. Just out of high school and having no deferment, he was drafted. What did he think about this or the war in general? I don’t know for sure, because he didn’t talk about it. He was slightly wild, which was one of his charms, and I often wondered whether this was related to his time in the military. He was into motorcycles and guns. When we were dating, we rode motorcycles and he took me to a target range to practice shooting. We married, and five years later, divorced.

I never saw Bill again, but with the advent of Facebook, I quietly looked him up. He was in business for himself selling art and photographs. His inventory included images of flags, motorcycles and guns. There was a recent photograph of him, but I had trouble recognizing him. His hair had gone gray, and he had full facial hair that he had never had when I was with him. His Facebook postings showed that he participated in Rolling Thunder rallies, that he enjoyed sailing on the Chesapeake Bay and in Martha’s Vineyard, and that he had a pretty wife, three adult daughters and two grandchildren. I was glad to learn that he had bounced back from the turbulent time in his life after our divorce.

Certainly the imagery of flags and Rolling Thunder are signs of Bill’s pride in his country and his military record. But, did he have this pride as an 18-year-old, drafted into the military during America’s most unpopular war? I can’t be sure, but I have read that many of the Baby Boomers are now proud of their service, particularly as they approach their seventies, even though they may not have been enthusiastic soldiers. They are certainly entitled to it, as are all other veterans, regardless of their specific experience.

Patricia is a retired attorney who has lived in Severna Park for over 20 years.  She and her husband, Rodney, raised their daughter in Ben Oaks and became empty nesters three years ago.  She considers herself a bit of an athlete: swimming, walking the dog, and practicing Tai Chi.  She also meditates, but not consistently, and loves writing, which she has done for her own enjoyment all her life.

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