As I grew up in The Canal Zone, which existed in the Republic of Panama, I often remember visiting Air Force bases like Albrook Air Force Base. I remember the sense of order that American servicemen and women brought to the Base. Everything appeared in its place, every building, while the same, enjoyed a high level of care. All the lawns were manicured, restrained and in their place…beautiful.
|SFC James Gordon Guhlin, Paratrooper Instructor|
I often regret that I didn’t enter some branch of the military. As I approached the age of emancipation, that curious age that would bar me from entrance to a military base, no longer a military dependent but a stranger, I felt a profound sense of loss…the “Land of the Big PX,” as my father described it joking to my Mom. But it was more than loss to the perceived benefits of the Post Exchange, but loss to the access being a military dependent allowed for.
As a teenager, I would suggest to my Dad that I might join the military…maybe the Army, where he had served or the Air Force, which he admired due to their perceived level of education (my Dad, although he served a paratrooper instructor at Ft. Benning, Georgia, had only a high school education…but like the youth of yesterday, he was an avid reader who inspired reading in me). Dad always managed to steer me towards college. After a stint in JROTC at High School, where I had to deal with commanding “officers” who acted strangely, a view bolstered by books I read like The Caine Mutiny, I gained an even deeper appreciation for my father’s service. While he often spoke positively of his officers, I couldn’t imagine having to serve myself under someone who might be a little less than “all they could be.”
“You see those people there,” he would point to road-builders, grass-cutters, swinging their machetes from a hunched over position close to the ground, as we entered the military bases of my childhood, “they didn’t go to school when they were young.” I remember the conversation since it happened when I was a child, pulling up to attend summer school focused on learning my English better. Born bilingual, it seemed, I was having problems reconciling the two languages–Spanish and English. A summer after 2nd grade helped me master antonyms, synonyms, homonyms (words that sound alike but have different meanings). The conversation was often revisited throughout the years, a slow brain-washing that I later applied to my own children. It was less dis-respect towards to the uneducated and more a push to get an education.
|Left to Right: SFC James G Guhlin, “Doc”|
Dad never spoke much of his time in Korea. He earned the Bronze Star with a “V” for Valor, and received various commendations. Two of them, he expressed pride in and they included:
1) “Doc and I were out in the battlefield. He was working over the body of another soldier. As he did that, I could see the mortar rounds making their way straight to our position.” I would listen enthralled to this tale, knowing that my father survived but awed at the possibility that he might not have lived and been killed on that battlefield. You see, I was born late in my Dad’s life, and though the Guhlin name would have carried on due to a first marriage, the Panamanian branch of the Guhlin family might never have been born.
2) The reason my Dad received the Bronze Star, “I told him to put me in for the Congressional Medal of Honor, that way I would have gotten the Silver Star, but he put me in for the Silver and I got the Bronze!” was because he rallied troops to fight back an attack of Korean soldiers during the Korean Conflict. His position was about over-run but he took command, organized everyone and fought back.
I’m struck by the sacrifice of all veterans and imagine that their service is like that of my father’s. Regular people thrust into situations that required them to be more than they ever imagined they could be, people who wouldn’t necessarily brag about the things they had to do, bringing order to the chaos of war.
As I look back at my Dad and his legacy, it is that of a person who could bring order to chaos. I’m grateful for that and only wish I had learned the lessons he taught better. Now, I am sure my Father, like so many others whose bodies lie in state in America’s cemeteries, is garbed in glory…a glory that came from service seldom appreciated, or remembered, but given because he had it to give, because there was no one else to do so, because it was he who had to establish order.
Thank you, Dad. Thank you, American veterans.
View my Flipboard Magazine.
Make Donations via PayPal below: