FADING AWAY

“Old soldiers never die…they just fade away…” Gen Douglas MacArthur

“Old soldiers never die…they just fade away…” Gen Douglas MacArthur

 

This past Christmas I held my first grandson for the first time. I think that nothing can bring about one’s sense of mortality like the experience of holding that first grandchild.

Author Steve Traywick with Grandson

Author Steve Traywick with Grandson

Asher still had that new baby smell. He looked at Papaw with an unsure look in his eye, but an infant must have a sense of family. He didn’t cry. He settled into my arms and for the next two days only cried when he was hungry or had a wet diaper.

Looking into his eyes brought about a feeling of mortality, but it was a satisfied feeling….that feeling that I can let go now; that my name and bloodline will be carried on. I can live (or not) satisfied. I wonder if some day he’ll want to know about Papaw. I’m trying to leave enough of an ether trail that he can track me down if he chooses. If he does, he’ll certainly learn about the men I served with and what we did and how we served. I certainly hope he does. They are all unsung heroes.

I messaged with my oldest friend this evening. We were talking about trying to get together for the Tennessee/Oklahoma football game in Knoxville later this year. I haven’t seen Bill in probably ten years, but we always keep in touch. We’ve both made horrendous mistakes in our personal lives, but unlike me, Bill rose to the very pinnacle of our profession. He was (and in my mind still is) the very personification of a professional soldier and tanker. A tanker in the 2nd Infantry Division, a member of the Audie Murphy Club, an M1 Master Gunner, Master Gunner for a winning CAT (Canadian Army Trophy) team, combat vet in Desert Storm, he retired a Command Sargent Major.

Steve Traywick in Germany.

Steve Traywick in Germany.

I knew him when he was a young Specialist 4 and my tank driver. Later, we became neighbors. We babysat each other’s kids. We watched out for each other. Bill chose a different path than I did. I think that he couldn’t not succeed at anything he did. Even though we went separate ways, we always managed to maintain that sense of family that every member of an Armor unit knew. Bill was, and still is my oldest and dearest friend.

Chatting with Bill tonight, it occurred to me that we old soldiers are fading away like every generation must surely do. There are still quite a few of us around from Uncle Ronnie’s army, but we are certainly getting much older. Most of my buddies from my generation of the nineteen-eighties have grandchildren now. I have no idea how or when this happened. I told Bill tonight that if I’d known I would live this long, I would have certainly taken better care of myself. He agreed.

I suppose I’ve written all this to say that I’m very, very concerned. I worry for my Army and ultimately for my country. Probably every generation of soldiers (sailors and marines too, I suppose) worries that the succeeding generation won’t be tough enough to face the challenges that their generation faced. I certainly won’t compare us to The Greatest Generation or the generation that fought the thankless war in Korea. I’ve met a lot of Vietnam vets and won’t let my generation take a backseat to them; different time, different mission.

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Reflections of a Cold Warrior – The Men

Author: Steve Traywick

“Some had families waiting. For others, their only family would be the men they bled beside. There were no bands, no flags, no Honor Guards to welcome them home. They went to war because their country ordered them to. But in the end, they fought not for their country or their flag, they fought for each other.” Joseph Galloway, Narrator: We Were Soldiers

It’s Thanksgiving again and, as always, my thoughts return to a different time and a different

Author Steve Traywick

Author Steve Traywick

kind of family.  In Reflections of a Cold War Warrior – Being There, I mentioned my first Thanksgiving in Germany but now I think it’s time to introduce you to the men. Grab a cup of coffee or a beer and come on into the kitchen; I have a tale to tell.  I want you to meet my other family.  We fought with and for each other.

If I didn’t mention it at the beginning of this blog, I AM NOT A WRITER!  I’m not sure I can write a word portrait of someone but I’m going to try.  History is made up of what real people have done. The guys I served with were just that: real people. They were sons, brothers, husbands, fathers and friends. Several of them made a huge impact on my life.  I remember most of them with the fondest warmth.  There were some assholes of course. You can’t get a large crowd of people together without having at least one, but I’ll get to them much later on.

A lot of us were just kids although we thought we were grown.  A lot of us were in the Army in the first place because of the economy during the early 1980s.  We simply couldn’t find jobs.   I couldn’t find a job, but since I was (and still am) a history nut I thought armor would be the way to go.  I certainly didn’t want to find myself in the woods humping a ruck sack.

I didn’t intend to editorialize, but I still lose patience with people who remember Jimmy Carter as a great statesman. He may have been, but he was a disaster as a president.  I think the country is better off with him in retirement than sitting in the Oval Office.  I remember high unemployment, sharply rising gas prices, interest rates in the twenty percent, the Ayatollah Khomeini taking power in Iran with Carter’s blessing, the Iran Hostage situation, and a lot more.  The high unemployment rate is what put a lot of us in uniform.

A lot of guys went in to take advantage of the GI bill, but not me.  They had just changed it when I went in and it pretty much didn’t amount to anything. A lot of them stayed in and made the Army a career.  I believe to this day that the classes of 1979 and 1980 formed the backbone of the Army that went into Kuwait in 1991 and kicked some and took some.  We became Uncle Ronnie’s Army.

If you can’t tell, I’m stalling about writing the word portraits of the guys I knew. Through the magic of Facebook, I’ve been able to get in touch with many of them.  Some of them have changed and some of them are much the same way we were when we were younger. We’ve certainly all aged.   So, if any of them happen to read this, I hope they’ll understand.  Continue reading