We’ve started a tradition, over the last couple years, of dedicating this space on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, to service people in general – and in particular to a single soldier, sailor or airman, as a way of sharing his or her story. It’s a way of remembering that although war and conflict are grand geopolitical events, they are experienced by real people in real, tangible ways.
With your indulgence I’ve brought this Memorial Day’s post a bit closer to home, by dedicating today’s post to my late uncle, Don Abicht, who served with the USMC in Korea. His daughter, my dear incomparable cousin Sandi Abicht-Guelker, was kind enough to share the following memories of her father. Thank you, Sandi; and thank you, Uncle Don.
My dad and a couple other buddies forged their birth certificates to enlist in the Marines at age 17. I asked him once whatever possessed him to do such a thing and he shrugged and said “It felt like the right thing to do.”
That admission, and a memory of how they had worn out their boots, was pretty much all I was ever able to get out of him. He just never wanted to talk about it. We used to take long road trips out west in the summer. Once, in the middle of the beautiful, open plains he said “San, this is the greatest country in the world.” He went on to tell me why he thought it was so – one of those rare and very precious times he shared his feelings.
So I learned early on from him to love this country, enjoy it, protect it, take care of it, treasure it.
My Aunt Carol told me that he once said that, when he shot a Korean soldier, he would think “that was someone’s son, brother, father, friend…” and I thought “how typical, that he’d feel compassion for even the enemy”…
And that was my dad, always thinking of the other guy. From that example, I learned empathy, I learned to never forget that even our enemies are human. We may have to fight sometimes – hurt, kill those enemies – to protect this country; a necessary evil. But never lose touch with the fact that we’re all humans… He’d say “never judge a book by its cover”, meaning that no matter what the outside looks like – black, white, yellow, brown – the insides were all the same stuff that makes us human. That’s our common ground, and I’m sure he felt that if we could just focus on that, and go from there, we could avoid the necessary evils.
I think the main reason he was reluctant to talk about the war is because he never felt that what he’d done was “special”. He was too humble to think that what he did (at any time in his life) was anything that anyone else wouldn’t do. He always just did what he felt was right. Every year on Veterans Day I’d call dad and recite “Thank you for your sacrifice all those years ago, and for fighting for this country” and every year, without fail, he’d snort (he had a great snort when he laughed, which I inherited) and say “Now, now”. Always unfailingly humble.
He taught me to always do what I felt was right, yet respect the points of view of others. I learned to be humble and never belittle even the smallest achievements of my fellow humans. He was always – ALWAYS – encouraging to everyone around him, and never failed to recognize the smallest good in others.
My dad was quiet, dignified, gentle, humble, and the most consistently even-keeled person I ever knew. My Uncle Jim called him “the calm in our storms”. I miss my dad so much!