Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll takes note of UNPAYABLE DEBTS and UNSUNG HEROES. She writes:

Since last week’s column missed Thanksgiving by just a day, I believe it is still appropriate (and is always appropriate) to think about our many Unpayable Debts. Gratitude is out of favor; entitlement is The Current Thing, along with hatred for and disparagement of every single blessing we have inherited. But most of my readers do not care much for The Current Thing.

Although our topic is Unpayable Debts, I rush to assure all the sad, entitled kids, I’m not talking about your college loans, in which you squandered tens of thousands of dollars on a Degree in Nonbinary Anti-Imperialist Poetry. Those debts ARE eventually payable, you’d just prefer not to. Yeah, #MeToo. I feel the same way about my Home Owners’ Assn. dues AND my Arizona water bill. But nobody is offering to bribe me for my vote, so I just go ahead and pay my own bills as I have been doing for lo, these 60 years or so.

The first Unpayable Debt I incurred in utero. As I have mentioned in the past, my sainted late mother was in a pregnancy that turned life-threatening enough (toxemia that turned to full-blown eclampsia) that even way back in 1946 the doctor urged “terminating.” She declined; here I am. I doubt there has ever been a closer mother and daughter.

Another installment of the Unpayable Debt is owed the family who raised me. I was yanked prematurely into that sweet spot in American history when the Daddies and soon-to-be-Daddies returned from winning the Big War against various forms of fascism and started filling up the country with newborns. After all the horror the world had seen in the ’30s and ’40s, newborns were not considered a carbon footprint blight on Gaia, but rather a promissory note for a brighter future. Heck, they put our tiny carbon footprints in ink right on our Birth Certificates!

Growing up in my small-town, loving family, I also found myself in the most free, most prosperous nation on God’s green earth, a republic (if we can keep it), governed by a Constitution, Bill of Rights, and checks and balances. Talk about an Unpayable Debt! The best medical care that existed at the time! My God, Dr. Reinhardt came out to our house to give us exams and prescriptions or shots when we had flu or bronchitis. We got free education that actually taught students to read, write and “figger” without even a hint about the sex lives of any of our teachers, who by some statistical miracle, were ALL either men or women! What were the chances?

The reason America has remained The Shining City on the Hill to all and sundry brings us to our next Unpayable Debt and the reason for this column: the Unpayable Debt to our military veterans and especially to the ones who gave all. Every male in our families served, most in wartime. My paternal grandfather served in WWI. Joe’s Hungarian grandfather also fought in World War I, just on the other side. (His service, however, did not save him from Auschwitz.) Both of our fathers served in World War II.

Through this column Joe and I have met many kind, smart, tough patriots who served our country. I hate even to start naming names lest I leave someone out, but just a FEW of those people would include TonyP173, JimJ, Sgt. Dufus, Colonel Will, uffdaphil, MikeC, and Capt. JimW. (I will keep the list short so that if you were omitted, you are in good company with many others.)

In one column last summer, a new commenter (FIIGMO) noticed that we were in Prescott and offered right in the comments to spring for a beer at a famous local pizza place. Who could turn that down? We went and made some beautiful friends. You know that feeling when you meet a new person and INSTANTLY you know you are in the presence of Someone Special? Yeah, that. And he had brought his lovely brilliant wife, so that was multiplied by two.

Joe Shaffer III has degrees in Philosophy and History. He is a Vietnam veteran who served as a Medical Services Specialist in the United States Air Force. When I sang his praises to my aforementioned friend TonyP173, he immediately said, “A Medic? ALL soldiers LOVE medics.” After an illustrious career in the Honors Program at Northern AZ University, Mr. Shaffer currently volunteers in the Emergency Department at the Northern Arizona VA Health Care System in Prescott, AZ. (Of course he does!)

His wife, Dr. Paula Kapp Greene, is Associate Professor Emeritus from NAU. She has both a Master’s and a Doctorate in Education from Vanderbilt University. But what she speaks of with the most sparkle is the fact that she is mother to both a decorated Navy EOD operator and a Naval Senior Intelligence Officer.

Almost immediately in our first pizza/beer meeting, Joe and Paula told us about the manuscript they had just completed that they hoped would become a book. It was about the men and women of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) community of the United States Navy, which they describe in the opening Preface as “…operators and technicians who quietly undertake some of the most dangerous work performed by members of the American military.”

I thought perhaps it was some sort of little monograph. Boy, “wrong” does not begin to cover that assumption. Unsung, is a work of such exquisite, thorough and painstaking scholarship and compassion that it almost defies description. It is not a breezy novel that can be tossed off in a sitting and forgotten.

It is first a fascinating but short history of Navy EOD starting with a brief biography of Admiral Draper Kauffman, considered the “Father” of both NAVY EOD and Navy SEALS. But the heart and soul of the book are the dozens of in-depth interviews with the extraordinary men and women of the EOD, including the experiences of their families. You need to read these vignettes a few at a time and linger over the mind-boggling personal sacrifices – stories told in the participants’ own words. These men – and their families – will live in your head for some time to come. Some use their real names; pseudonyms are used in many cases for operational security because it’s a nasty world out there and we are currently a country without borders.

In the foreword to this remarkable book, Francis A. Morneau, RADM, U.S. Navy (ret) gifted us with a rare dose of pride and optimism in this fractious, depressing world. Let me quote him at some length:

If you believe that America is becoming soft and timid…think again. There are men who still believe in the strong moral values this country was founded upon and will fight for them under any circumstance. They have the rare combination of a commando’s physical toughness and a physicist’s intelligence and are willing to make enormous sacrifices both personally and professionally to protect their country…This book is an insight to their story. As an American, I will always view myself forever in their debt.

In a world of Participation Trophies, Safe Spaces, and Self-Esteem Boosting Workshops, it is altogether fitting that we pay tribute to people who are just plain BETTER than us. People whose boots we are not really worthy to shine. And not JUST because we wouldn’t be able to do a good enough job.

But here’s the remarkable thing: of the many vets I have been privileged to know, not a one thinks of HIMSELF or HERSELF as a hero. They all – often with choked voices and flowing tears – say the heroes are the ones who were severely wounded or didn’t come back.

So I hope I have convinced you to order this book off Amazon–UNSUNG: Quiet Voices of the US Navy’s EOD Warriors and Their Families. Use the search field drop down menu, select books, type in UNSUNG QUIET VOICES, and that will take you to the book. If not, search for it on Amazon via Google.

In the past, when you have rallied to order a new column compilation by me or the latest novel by Max Cossack, often several hundred have flown out the door. Let’s try to set a new record.

Please – even if you are not a superfan of Amazon – get over it long enough to order this important book. Trust me, it won’t affect Mr. Bezos one way or the other. Maybe order one for you and a few for Christmas gifts or to honor vets you know. It is not a bargain-priced book, but your purchase helps support two great non-profit organizations that provide assistance to the families of fallen EOD warriors. A full 50% of net sales will be split between these two organizations.

Next week, I already have a considerably more amusing column in the works, but just for today, I felt strongly that a temporary step outside the Humor Zone was called for, as one small installment on that Unpayable Debt. Needing multiple lifetimes to “pay it back”, all we can realistically do is pay it forward.

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