Skip to comments.Anti-war generation watches its children go to war
Posted on 02/08/2005 6:21:02 PM PST by qam1
MILWAUKEE - John Treslley shakes his head in awe when he thinks about his 20-year-old son driving a Hummer through the minefields of Iraq.
"I wish I had half the guts he has," Treslley, 47, says in a whisper.
Back in 1977, when Treslley was that age, the notion of military duty never crossed his mind. The draft ended in 1973, and two years later, so did the Vietnam War.
"I was busy in those days playing football, drinking lots of beer and chasing women," says Treslley, a pilot and former game farm operator in Hayward, Wis.
All across America, thousands of parents like Treslley, baby boomers with no military experience of their own, are watching anxiously as their children head off to war. Most are proud. Some are angry, either at their children for taking on such a potentially dangerous mission or at the military for recruiting their sons and daughters. Nearly all say they are scared. For many, frankly, they just don't get it.
"You see a lot of fathers at these ceremonies who look pretty confused," says Terry Bellis, an instructor with the U.S. Marine's Fox Company with headquarters in Milwaukee. "They have this look in their eyes, like, `Wow. My kid is going to do that? Why would he want to do that?'''
When the parents of many of today's soldiers were that age, America was losing or had lost in Vietnam, an unpopular war. Protesters held huge rallies on college campuses, and thousands fled to Canada to avoid the draft. The military was largely scorned, says Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, 53, of the Wisconsin National Guard.
"People would flip us the bird when we'd walk down the street in our uniforms," he says. "You knew that they didn't respect you or what you did."
In Donovan's early years in the National Guard, in the 1960s, the classic generation gap was defined as fathers, many of whom had served in World War II, disgusted at the insolence of youth. Today, military recruiters say, the 18- and 19-year-olds who are signing up are much more trusting of the establishment, much more willing to be part of a team. The gap now, they say, tends to be the parents' lack of understanding of their children's more bellicose leanings.
While their parents may have shunned the status quo and thumbed their noses at the military when they were young, plenty of young men and women today seem eager to join the armed forces. Enlistments soared after the attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001, though the numbers are starting to slow down.
Jeramy Ringwolski, 18, joined the Marines in his senior year in high school, wanting to serve his country and see the world. He says his parents were skeptical at first.
"They didn't know if I knew what I was getting myself into," he says. Now in basic training in Mississippi, Ringwolski says he is excited about the possibility of being shipped out to Iraq.
"That's what I'm here for," he says.
He says his father, Darrin, who did not serve in the military, tells him all the time how proud he is.
"I think he's a little jealous of me," says the younger Ringwolski.
Occasionally, someone will sneer or make a snide comment about how stupid the military is, he says. "Usually, that's from old people in their 40s and 50s," he says.
Last year, the Army exceeded its goal in recruiting more than 77,000. The Marines beat their goal of 36,773 by 21. But National Guard numbers were down 30 percent in the last few months of last year, a trend that is expected to continue and spread to other branches of the armed forces. Military recruiters say that's largely because of the war and worried parents.
"We're seeing a lot of objections by the parents," says Lt. Col. Tim Lawson, commander of recruiting and retention for the Wisconsin National Guard, which fell short of its goal of 1,300 by about 6 percent last year. "There is a war going on, and no one wants to sign a paper that makes them responsible for what can happen over there."
Jittery parents are making recruiting efforts much more difficult, says Lawson. They tend to hover over their children, peppering the recruiters with questions. Recruiters say they used to tailor their appeal to the recruits. But that has changed.
"Not only do we have to sell the kid, now we have to sell his parents, too," Lawson says. "That's two or three for the price of one."
The new federal law known as the No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools to turn the names and addresses of high school juniors and seniors over to military recruiters. This bothers some people, especially some parents who don't like the idea of recruiters encouraging their 16- and 17-year-olds to join the military. Groups such as the Quakers are sponsoring seminars on how to offer alternatives to military duty, such as joining faith-based volunteer corps.
"We want to make sure kids know all of their options," says Mark Helpsmeet of the Eau Claire Friends.
Michelle Ringwolski, 38, of Milwaukee, Jeramy's mother, had just gotten used to the idea of her son in the Marines when her daughter, Tiffany, a high school junior, announced that she plans to sign up for the U.S. Air Force's delayed entry program when she turns 17 in June.
"I'm proud as hell of her, but it is tough to take," Michelle Ringwolski said. "There is a war on. So, of course I'm freaking out."
The anxieties of the families have spiraled with last week's helicopter crash that killed 31 Marines and the recent increase in deadly attacks by insurgents as today's elections drew near.
"We can't hardly bear to watch the news," said John Treslley. They learned late Thursday that their son, John IV, better known as Fridge, was not one of the Marines who had been killed.
His wife, Cindy, 46, says she has been on edge since Fridge came home one summer day in 2002 to announce that he had signed up for eight years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Two weeks after his high school graduation in June 2003, Fridge went off to boot camp.
At first, Cindy Treslley says, she was angry at her son for joining the military and at her husband for signing the papers allowing him to do so.
"I couldn't even talk for several days," she says. "I was the mom who had the post-prom party at my house so I could watch and make sure that these guys were all safe."
In time, her anger would abate, and she grew proud of her son.
On the night Fridge came home from boot camp, he and his mother stayed up and ironed clothes and made breakfast for the rest of the family.
"Believe me, he had never done those things before," she said.
After infantry school and working for nearly a year as a recruiter in northern Wisconsin, Fridge was deployed to Iraq on Sept. 14, 2004.
"I remember everything about that day, the way he looked, the way he smelled," says Cindy Treslley. "I remember staring at the shape of his head as we were driving to the airport and memorizing every little detail. I didn't want to forget, you know?"
He is an infantryman in southwest Iraq, the area known as "the Triangle of Death."
Now the Treslleys hold a nervous vigil in their home as candles flicker next to Fridge's picture, the stuffed clown that he got from his grandparents on the day he was born and a picture book of the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11.
"I hold my breath every time I turn into the driveway down there," says John Treslley. "I honestly don't know what I'd do if I came home one day and found two Marines parked up here. That's how they tell you, you know. You don't get a call. They show up at your door."
Fridge lives in temporary quarters where there is no easy access to e-mail. He gets to call home on a satellite phone about every 10 days.
Cindy Treslley says she dreams about her son two or three times a week.
"I dream that I'm hugging him, and then I wake up, and he's not there," she says.
She doesn't have the heart to make his bed.
"It's just like the day he left," she says, smoothing down the comforter. "I'm waiting for him to come home."
Even parents who are familiar with military tradition say they find it hard to watch their sons and daughters prepare for war.
Meghan Phillips, 19, of Hustisford, Wis., says her father, Pat, a 30-year veteran of the Army Reserves, had a hard time when she enlisted in the Army National Guard. Phillips said she signed up when she was 17 years old after she was recruited by a friend who let her drive the Humvee around the school parking lot.
Meghan is well-versed in the ways of the military. Both of her parents were in the Army. Her oldest brother, Austin, was in the Air Force, and her other brother, Matt, is in the Army National Guard.
"Still, my dad wasn't too happy about it when I signed up," says Meghan, a film student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who tends bar at nights and on the weekends. "I'm Daddy's little girl, you know? He doesn't want me to get sent over to Iraq."
Pat Phillips, 48, says he trusts his daughter and respects her right to make choices as an adult.
"My only concern is that she is making the choice for the right reason, because she wants to go, not because I went and her brothers."
Pat Phillips, who returned from Afghanistan last year at this time, says it has been fascinating to see soldiers his children's ages and compare them with the men and women he served with at the beginning of his military career in 1974.
"We went in for something to do," he said. "These kids today, they are on a mission. I think they're more like their grandparents than their parents. They remind me of soldiers who went in right after Pearl Harbor. They are very directed, very clear in their focus and what their obligation is to their country. We had peace and love and all of that. These kids have Sept. 11. It did something to them."
Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social (and sometimes nostalgic) aspects that directly effects Generation Reagan / Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1981) including all the spending previous generations (i.e. The Baby Boomers) are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.
Freep mail me to be added or dropped. See my home page for details and previous articles.
Very few of the kids from the anti-war crowd are in the military. Thank goodness.
It seems that class and maturity skipped a generation.
"Anti-war generation watches its children go to war"
I'm sick of my generation being called the "Anti-War" generation. The morons who entertained the news cameras way back then were few and far between, but they got all the publicity. Millions of my generation were clean cut, had jobs, got drafted, never took drugs, cut our hair, washed, went to church, and raised our children to be moral contributing members of our country. A few thousand scum-bags got all the press. I'm tired of it. My generation was NOT anti-war; we were very patriotic.
Like one of our local Clevealnd news dudes (Gib Shanley) used to say immediately after the anchors and anchorettes gushed and gooed over the "ten thousand" protester who might have shown up at some pot-smoking anti-war demo, "Yes, but over 170 million Americans DID NOT protest."
RE: These kids have Sept. 11. It did something to them."
And that is a healthy reaction. Why didn't their folks react the same way?
Not really. Two and a half million boomers served in Vietnam. 58,000 never came home. Another three or four million served in the Armed Forces elswhere. Actually, quite a bit more than today. The military was much larger. Those who served in the period of Vietnam need not take a back seat to their children in Iraq and Afghanistan. They all serve their country. They all will return with their honor and class.
RE: My generation was NOT anti-war; we were very patriotic.
With all due respect, percentage wise, the Baby Boomers had an unbelievably large faction of neer do wells. Perhaps not where you grew up, but in the same areas that are "blue" voting areas today, it was like a nightmare. I was barely old enough to understand what all the "big kids" were up to at the time, but the whole thing was quite wierd to me. Sorry if this offends you, but that's how I saw it.
Hmm. Good perspective.
I'm on the cusp between Boomer and Xer - my troops are my kids, chronologically. This hunting trip is going to be interesting.
I'll never forget, just a few months after 9/11 FOX had a report on new recruits in the Army. There's this kid fresh out of high school, still in boot camp saying, "To my brothers in the Special Forces, I'm coming as fast as I can."
Calling them the "Anti War Generation" is pretty disingenuous and agenda-motivated: the name should not frame the minority.
"America was losing or had lost in Vietnam"
I beg to differ.
I beg to set the record straight. Ho Chi Min himself said that they were on the verge of suing for peace when a certain Navy Leiutenant decided to lie in front of Congress, and charge American Soldiers with war crimes. He said the subsequent backlash, and propaganda locomotive it created was the reason they were able to push the U.S. out of South Vietnam. The other fact is that we won more than 80% of the battles that were faught in Vietnam. The NVA could retreat behind the 38th and regroup; we didn't have that luxery.
So, in retrospect, thanks a whole lot HoChiMin Kerry and Hanoi Jane Fonda for selling out your own people to a bunch of communists.
the 100 to 1 is in our favor of course.
I agree, especially when so many (something on the level of 2 million over the entire course of the war) were sent to fight there. Another couple of million served during the Vietnam era but never were sent. It is unfortunate that the actual minority of that aged population garnered so much attention. And that they were allowed to disrespect men and women in uniform the way they did.