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A Life time of Devotion Rocko Served not in one career but in the whole community

November 11, 2015

 

By Anthony “Rocko” Holloway

Is war a necessary evil or just plain evil? That is a question that I now ask myself some 42 years since I serving in the armed forces. I also sometimes wonder if my service was worth it.
I graduated from high school in the spring of 1970. I come from a blue-collar neighborhood and was set to enter the work world and earn my keep. I just wanted a job; any job. Unable to find work because of age, 17, I decided to join the US Air Force. With the support of my mother, who was required to give her approval, I was on my way.
The Vietnam conflict had been well under way when I finished my 6 weeks of basic training, and being young and dumb but thinking I was tough, I volunteered to go into combat. Fortunately, I was sent elsewhere. I spent my first two years in Japan trying to grow up and understand what it meant to be to be an adult. It was fascinating and rewarding. I was in the perfect environment to learn. I was away from the dangers of combat and in a beautiful country. I had guaranteed lodging, food, and spending money, quite contrary to civilians who had to compete for those and other necessities. What could be better?
I left Japan for a change of duty station in the spring of 1973. The plane from overseas landed in California, and I had to make my way home to Philadelphia. My travel was eventful to say the least. Those of us in the military uniforms were met with cold indifference at best, and sometimes open hostility. “Baby killer” and “murderer” were the 2 most poignant names amidst an array of other colorful and hateful things that were directed at as us as we made our way across our country.
This was very troubling to me and significant in retrospect. The average age of the American servicemen killed in Vietnam was 19, my age at that time. Also, the high school that incurred the most casualties during the Vietnam conflict was in Philadelphia, Thomas Edison High. What does the average 19-year-old or high school graduate in any country or context know about life, let alone death. And, here I was being labeled a monster for serving my country.
My last 2 service years were uneventful except for one occurrence. Some time in the winter of 1973 I decoded an urgent, top-secret (at that time, since downgraded) message referring to the Middle East. “Arab-Israeli conflict escalates…go to DEFCON 2…” I was not aware of the significance of the DEFCON system of military readiness, but after giving the message to my superiors, the entire base on which I was stationed was put on full alert for about 4 hours. In far later years, I found out through PBS that these alerts affected the entire US military apparatus, and happened more than a few times during the Nixon years. My point in this is to show how uninformed, vulnerable, and powerless the average military service person really is.
Fast forward to 2015. It is now post-Desert Storm with the capture of Saddam Hussein, and after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The courageous exploits of some of our elite fighting men are highlighted in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty”. The current sentiment has elevated every active duty serviceman to the status of hero. Compare that to the images of the Vietnam era soldiers in the movies “Platoon” and “Apocalypse Now”, where soldiers are viewed as irresponsible, crazy, or evil. What images are true, all or none?
My gavel falls down on the side of none. Clearly movies are dramatizations. I believe that the average person enters the armed forces for a variety reasons. Some seek adventure and glory, others have a sense of patriotism and duty, many are conscripted, and still others have limited skills and /or opportunity for sustained employment and join the military because they have run out of options.
War changes the role for soldiers so it doesn’t matter why or how they are involved. War is a complicated, often geopolitical maelstrom that can result from disagreements between individuals, businesses, countries, political affiliates, theocrats, ideological opposites, etc. The reasons are myriad. Those who do the actual work and fighting rarely understand the rationale and reasons for why their groups are at odds. We generally trust our leaders and are willing to represent our side. But, we also need the allure of righteousness; they are the enemy because we are right. We must vilify them. Both sides feel that way. Again I ask which side bears truth. Collectively the average soldier is always on the side of truth and righteousness. It all boils down to what one believes.
Veterans Day is the most appropriate time to honor the people who symbolically and in some cases literally sacrifice part or all of their living and their bodies for the well-being of family, friends, and strangers. It is also a time to reflect about war and conflict and not pass judgments; condemning or glorifying the people who get caught up in their embrace.
Service to others always seems to be a good thing to me.

Me leaving Japan 1973

 
“I AM HAPPY HONORED AND GRATEFUL for you Rocko. You have expressed many principles that most of the leadership of Congress have no connection to. As you know I was a CO but your analysis of that time is where I came to view the matter of war and patriotism and serving. Your gifts to me have been incalculable.”
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