By Jeff Hodges

When I was young and trying to weasel out of a distasteful task—like cleaning up putrefying cat vomit—my mother would acidly remind me that we were descended from pioneers, patriots, and war heroes, and tell me to buck up. Whether any of them had to clean up cat vomit in the course of taming the wilderness or defending our country remains unknown.

My first ancestor to pick up a rifle fought in the French and Indian War. When the American Revolution rolled around, he told his three brothers he had seen enough bloodshed and migrated to western Kentucky with Daniel Boone, only to skirmish again with Indians working as British mercenaries. His brothers joined colonial militias with the result of being disowned by their wealthy family in England.

After returning from the War of 1812, my great-great grandfather found his barn destroyed. Since it had been used to house injured soldiers during the Revolution, he used the lumber to make furniture with some historical cachet and was able to build a new barn.

SADDLE SORES. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hodges.

My great-grandfather, apparently unable or unwilling to come up with $300 to buy his way out of the Civil War, enlisted as a Lieutenant in the 101st Regiment in the Ohio Infantry. Somewhere north of Chickamauga he decided his hemorrhoids were too painful to stay in the saddle, so he dismounted and went home. Eighteen years later he petitioned President Grover Cleveland for a pension, and received a curt reply that said in effect: “Are You Kidding?”

My Uncle Hubie flew a P52 Mustang in the Second World War. After strafing a troop train in Italy, he developed engine problems and had to land next to the train. His captors were considerate enough not to shoot him on the spot, but they kept him in a tiny cage for a couple of days before sending him to a POW camp.

My Uncle Bob flew a B24 Liberator for 19 missions before he was shot down over Austria. He parachuted to safety, but was quickly captured by partisans. Just as they were about to shoot him, he pulled his toddler son’s slipper out of his bomber jacket and waved it at his captors. They relented and he ended up in Stalag Luft III, where his war ended after the Long March. He returned home to father three more boys but ultimately succumbed to the effects of his incarceration as a POW.

My father operated a control tower in China, directing aircraft over The Hump. He earned two Bronze Stars for fighting fires after Japanese bombing runs, but he always claimed that both times he returned to his burning tower to rescue a stash of rice wine his squadron deemed vital to the war effort.

My war was the War in Vietnam. Like many longhaired patriots of the Sixties, I fought in the streets of Washington, D.C., yelling “Hell No! We Won’t Go!” and throwing tear gas canisters back at the cops.

When I decided to drop out of college in my sophomore year, with a low draft number and a sound constitution, my only option was a 4F deferment based on an unsound mental state. I arrived at my appointment with the Army psychiatrist, well-oiled with alcohol and marijuana, and proceeded to act as crazy as possible. I was having so much fun that I considered chasing him around his office, but he quickly relented and gave me my deferment, with the therapeutic recommendation that what I needed was “a good kick in the ass!”

When I told my mother I was a successful draft dodger, she threw her arms around me and said “I’m so proud of you for staying out of that stupid war!” I’m sure my ancestors would have agreed.

Tags :

Leave a Reply