My family had this curse, it was a tradition of going to West Point and then onto fame and glory. Until my generation, all of my male relatives on my father's side had been a cadet and odds were that their wifes were Daughters of the American Revolution. Three quarters of them had also died serving their country. Sometimes, like my great-grandfather Obidah, they left widows with sons all ready primed for to carry on. Sometimes, like his brother Henry, they didn't even have a widow, let alone offspring.
My father served in Vietnam and that was the start of the end of our legacy - he made the mistake of surviving 3 grueling tours of duty as a Ranger. I don't think anything really snapped, but he came out of it a different man. My grandmother blamed the blacks - it was the first time a Ryan had commanded an integrated unit in battle and she thought they rubbed off on him, softening him up. My father, when he talked about the change, when the bourbon had been flowing through his veins, scoffed at that idea and presented his own compelling reasons: finding the tortured remains of his own father a mile from his downed Apache; interrupting the disfigurement of his younger brother and caving into his pleas to give him an honorable death on the battlefield instead of living his life out as an enuch; and, something much more darker of which he never spoke.
He stayed in the service after his war and made general. Along the way, he raised his four sons in the grand tradition of our warrior clan. There was a ten year gap between the first two, plus a couple of sisters, and the bottom two - of which I was the youngest. He shoveled the traditions on Obidah and Henry so much that Obidah ran away to San Fransisco, spurning our family's wealth, and selling himself on street corners. Henry hurt my father, and my grandmother, more by his decision to attend Annapolis to start his own family tradition.
Anna and Elaine, the pair of sisters, probably had graves turning all up and down the New England coast, they both applied for and were accepted to West Point. Frank, my last sibling, was 5 years older than I was, so I got a good look at the mixed signals my dad presented him with - either he had to excel and get into the Academy or pick a service oriented career, in other words, he had to give back to the community. Frank decided college was the right idea, but he didn't want anything to do with the military. He took a football scholarship to Standford, the family could have easily afforded to pay his way, but he still wanted to prove himself to my father. Frank's playing on Sundays.
Myself, I was born shortly after the stunt that Obidah pulled on the family. My father was already changing, the demons of 'Nam and my brothers blended such that I probably got the most normal childhood of all my siblings. Of course, they just called me runt and made it clear I was the baby of the family. Dad took the time to do normal things with me like Little League, scouts, and ballet. I picked the last one to tweak him at some point, but as long as I did well, he was okay with it.
He was rather understated with me about the family traditions, but I got an earful from my grandmother. She was proud of how her husband had fought in Europe in WWII, in Korea, and how he died in Vietnam. My parents taught me to respect her, but made it clear that I didn't have to live my life to fullfill some grandiose dream.
The one thing my father pushed me on was with going on to college. When Frank left for his freshman year, my father sat me down, explained the whole family history and then told me almost everthing about what he had seen in Vietnam. I could tell he was holding back on something. He finally broke down and begged that I be happy with my life and my choices.
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