“When you’re old enough, you’ll understand.”
I heard those words, or similar ones, so often as I went from boyhood, through adolescence and into adulthood that I began wincing every time I’d hear them again. My dad recited them often, my two grandfathers would say them, and countless other adults would voice those words periodically.
Now that I’m 75, I’m still trying to figure out just what those words really meant.
Do we — does anyone — really understand?
I’ve come to my own conclusion about what my elders meant when I was “growing up,” as they so often said. And, my conclusion, my “understanding,” is my own. I don’t agree with yours, necessarily, and I don’t agree, often, with those people elected to run our great country.
If you’ve reached this age, or if you’ve passed it, I know you understand things the way you want to understand them. Your “understanding” may be quite different from mine.
And, that is exactly what is so great about living in this country, a country of freedom where people understand things differently. We may be on the opposite ends of some of those beliefs, but that doesn’t make one of us wrong and the other one right.
As we near another new decade of this still-new century, there are still plenty of things I’m trying to understand. Looking at one calendar becoming part of the past and another calendar promising new, it affords yet another time to pause and look at things in a philosophical way, or at least as philosophically as one who thought he knew everything as a 20-year-old, but learned he knew nothing as a 40-year-old, can look at things.
There was a time when I eagerly joined the masses and voiced plenty of New Year’s resolutions, most of which were forgotten by the time the next day’s football games began amid aches and pains brought on by too much celebration the night before.
I belong to that American generation that was born after what was called “The Greatest Generation,” those Americans who took up arms and fought America’s enemies during World War II both in Europe and in the Pacific. I was born too soon to be included in what’s become known as the “Baby Boomers,” those born in the years immediately following that war which once again proved America’s might when it comes to fighting such long battles.
More importantly, perhaps, I’m a part of the last generation of American young men to face the military draft. Millions of young men, my age, were plucked away from daily lives, taken away from loved ones, separated from fiancés or “best” girls, and pulled away from careers that were just beginning.
During my time in the military — which covered parts of four years from 1965 until 1968 — I met countless young men like myself. They came from all walks of life and from all parts of America. I met, for the first time, poor young white and black men who joined the Army to obtain a better life for themselves than what they’d had in the past; I met some who came from privileged lives of wealth. Most were single young men, most gave up civilian jobs.
But, virtually to a man, they willingly gave up those lives for service to America.
I’ll admit, I was one of the fortunate ones. I’d established myself as a sportswriter before I entered the military, so it was relatively easy for me to get that same job as an Army occupation. It afforded me more opportunities than most. I felt blessed in that respect.
Still, I was not unlike most other soldiers with whom I served during those tumultuous years of the 1960s. Generally, we worked hard to do our duties as they were given to us, we obeyed our superiors and didn’t question that authority.
And, we all looked down on those of our own generation who lived the lives of dissidents — protesting on college campuses, rioting against authority, burning the American flag and, generally, living the lives of common hoodlums, as we called them.
I never ask anyone in my generation whether or not they served in the military. I never ask if they were draft dodgers. I just don’t want to know.
What I do know is that I met many men with whom I still maintain a friendly relationship even after a half-century. I treasure those friendships and find that military service is a common bond.
I wrote recently about the death of a man whom I’d considered my best friend — a German citizen named Manfred Lachner. My wife and I had visited Manfred and his wife Uschi in Germany — in fact, we spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve with them and about 20 other German friends. He and Uschi visited us in 1982 and were scheduled to visit again about three years ago. But, because of the new travel restrictions and requirements, they didn’t come.
I wrote how disappointed I’d been. Manfred wrote back: “Oh, we’ll meet again soon.”
Then, just before Christmas, Manfred passed away.
I have another very good friend from my time at Fort Gordon, Ga., before I was sent overseas. Rich Lindenmuth was, and still is, living just outside of Philadelphia. He was, without a doubt, my best friend at Fort Gordon and we reconnected about 25 years ago and have remained in contact since.
It’s my New Year’s resolution to make that meeting happen again in 2019.
I’d love, once again, to hear how great that Philadelphia music was in the American Bandstand days.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News Republican and Dallas County News. He can be reached at Bhaglund13@msn.com.