Next year, my only daughter will marry her retired Marine/current Army reservist fiancé on Armed Forces Day, a day that frankly had gone little-noticed on my calendar when it rolled around each year – until now.
With a son-in-law-to-be toiling in the military and a veteran of Afghanistan, I am far more interested than ever before in what it is like to be a military family. For context, the last of my family to fight in a war was my great-great-grandfather, who walked from Wisconsin to Atlanta, burned it, quite literally, and walked back. He was adjutant to Gen. Philip Sheridan in the Civil War, or as my Texas son-in-law calls it, the War of Northern Aggression. Good thing we are all on the same side now.
My relative came from Prussia in search of less war only to find the republic he entered under mutiny from a southern contingent that wanted states’ rights over federal authority. Thank goodness we settled that long ago…or did we? For those of you in Waukesha, M.L. Snyder was your second mayor and his family estate (and my family legacy) was torn down to build the library at Carroll University. But I digress…
What has surprised me is the legacy of service that so many military families have come to expect. With an ex-Marine father, an uncle currently in covert operations in Korea and a grandfather who served in the military, my son-in-law-to-be had little choice but to follow in their footsteps. As many of us go to work at our business handed down through the generations, some are called to serve in the family business of protecting our ability to do just that. So while this column is reserved for business, and family businesses in particular, I would be remiss if I didn’t report on a phenomenon rarely discussed and infrequently heralded – the family business of military service.
This type of business, going to war, has historical roots. In the old days when legacy and sons were worth beheading wives over – yikes – the first son inherited the family wealth, the second son went into the military, and often the third son went into religious life, thus insuring eternity for the parents of said child. War, or going to it, was a birthright, or a right depending upon your birth order. But these vestiges are not a thing of the past. This call to serve in the military for many families is alive and well and probably similar to the call to serve for firefighters, police and other first responders.
For me, it has been a learning opportunity as I now pay much closer attention to what is going on in the world and to which country a member of my family may be sent. Weapons training comes with the service, and never having held a gun in my life, the myriad of weaponry that is part of this lifestyle is quite intimidating, frankly. And then there is the language. To speak military is a whole lexicon unto itself. And lastly, there is the folding of clothes. In all my life I have never seen anyone fold their clothes with such precision.
Seventy-five years ago, my father-in-law was preparing for a landing in Normandy that would change the world. Did he know it? As Patton rolled through the Ardennes and this 18-year-old took the wheel of an ambulance after the driver was shot, could he know the historical value of that time and of that moment – or was he merely trying to stay alive?
Earlier this year, my wife and daughter went to Europe to take on a spiritual pilgrimage to follow in the footsteps of my father-in-law, marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing. From Omaha Beach to the Battle of the Bulge and finally to the clearing of a concentration camp at the end of the war, my wife and daughter went on that trip to memorialize, honor and remember.
While I stayed home to hold down the fort, and to help family businesses stay in business, I couldn’t help but pause with honor and respect for those who make war the family business, or better yet, make peace for our family businesses to be possible.