My family has no military tradition. We had a picture on the wall when I was a kid of some Great-Great Granduncle in a Romanian Cavalry Uniform. I remember seeing pictures of my father's father in uniform during WWI, but I'm not aware of him ever having been in combat. He certainly never spoke about it to me. My father was too young for WWII. My mother's brother was a flight surgeon in the Air Force, but I don't remember what years or if he was in a War Zone. Again, it's not something that was discussed around me.
My oldest brother was eligible for the draft during the Vietnam War, but happily wasn't called before the draft ended in 1973. My younger brother was in the Army for four years. If I recall, he really joined out of a sense that college would have been wasted on him at the time and he thought it would give him some direction (it did). And even though his service coincided with the First Iraq War, he never left Hawaii. I'm glad of that.
Until very recently, that was my only personal experience of people in the military. So, imagine my surprise over the last year and a half (or so), to find myself befriended by a group of people just brimming with Vets. And guess what. While in uniform, they followed orders. Regardless of what they thought of the order itself, or the officer issuing the order, or even their Commander in Chief.
But if that makes you think that, in any way, made them mindless automatons, you couldn't be further from the truth. They followed orders because they'd taken an oath to follow orders, and as I've gotten to know them, I've discovered that my friends take oaths very seriously. I also have no doubt whatsoever that they'd have refused to follow an illegal order. I'm confident that they'd have seen that as a betrayal of the highest order.
My friends have also shown me that being in the military doesn't make you one of those "my country, right or wrong", kind of people. I met one of my friends while he was still on active duty, and while hints of his opinions came through, he kept his mouth shut. He has since, retired and, well...now you can't shut him up.
None of this should surprise me and honestly, it doesn't really, it's more that it's a subject I'd never put a lot of thought into. And now that I am thinking about it, I'm realizing that there are any number of people I never got the chance to meet because they never came home. We're not a huge group of friends here, but I can't help thinking there must be a few other people who would have found their way here and fit right in, but never got the chance.
So, thanks guys. Both to the ones who befriended me and have taught me something and to the ones I never got to meet.