Saturday, June 11, 2016

Just Like Dad, Not in a Good Way: 19 Years, No Retirement


On May 3, I was honorably discharged from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.  I had 19 years and 21 days of service.  At that moment became "Just Like Dad" in a way that my Dad would never have wished on me.  

My father, George Gussman, enlisted in December 1939, at the age of 33 as a private soldier.  He was at the end of his career as a middleweight boxer and a minor league pitcher and decided to enlist.  He was supposed to be discharged in mid-December of 1941, but there were no discharges after December 7.  The next year, the Army sent Dad to Officer Candidate School, partly because he had warehouse experience and partly because he was so old, 36!  Despite leaving school in the 8th grade, Dad studied hard and got commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.  He commanded a maintenance company of Black soldiers at Camp Shenango, Pa., then a German Prisoner of War Camp in Reading, Pa., during the war.

After the war, Dad served in the Army reserve till 1958 when Senator John F. Kennedy pushed through something called the "Age in Grade" Law.  At 52 years old, with 19 years of service, my father was out without a pension.  He was too old to be a major, so he was out.  Dad was bitter about that for the rest of his life and never voted for a Democrat or a Kennedy for the rest of his life.

I re-enlisted at 54 knowing I did not have enough years to retire, since the age limit for the Army National Guard is 60.  I should have gotten out with 16 years of service in 2013.  But I stayed three extra years and got so close.  

So I asked my Congressman, Joe Pitts to help me out.  What I am asking for is an exception to the 20-year rule.  Whether that means I serve more or get a reduced pension, I thought it was worth trying to get even a partial pension after 19 years.

 So far Department of the Army passed it to National Guard Bureau and they passed it to the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania.  I have gotten a letter from the Pitts staff at each step.  I will post any updates.

My father was denied an appeal.  I will try to have a better result.


Enlistment Extended for the Duration

My father enlisted in the Army in December of 1939.  His enlistment was for just two years.  He was planning to get out in December of 1941.  In a very early version of the infamous Iraq War policy known as "Stop Loss," Dad was "extended for the duration" of the just declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy.

Dad and thousands of other soldiers in the peacetime Army of 1941 remained on active duty until late 1945 or 1946.

Except for Stop Loss the long Iraq and Afghanistan Wars did not stop discharges after a normal enlistment period of three or four years.  It was another way that these terrible wars were so different from World War 2.

By the time the war ended nearly fifteen million Americans were serving uniform.  Soldiers got leave, rotated home, but the rule was everyone served for the duration.

Among the many things wrong with Iraq, Afghanistan and Viet Nam was the partial commitment.  Even though my Dad never left America, he knew he would be serving until all of our enemies surrendered.

The current war could end anytime between next year and 2024.  I hope if we go to war in the future, we will have an enemy and the whole nation will have a part in defeating that enemy.  

The Greek word that is at the root of Patriotism is Patria--patriotism is a fellowship based on love of country.  In World War 2 millions of families had soldiers serving in the war.  Many of those families ate less meat and sugar and used less gas as part of the war effort.  Wars should have a price--so we can decide whether or notr we want to pay that price.


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