Paintball Game Prompts Gratitude for Vets

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My folks raised me to shoot hoops, not deer. Racks were things you put balls on. Trophies stood on shelves; they didn’t hang on walls.

While Mom generally maintained a gun-free zone, I recall a gleeful day when a water gun passed her inspection. Feeling empowered, I pushed my luck with a rubber band gun made from wooden blocks and a clothespin. She soon hung me out to dry.

Needless to say, weaponry doesn’t come naturally for me. Though I’ve shot a few dove since reaching adulthood, I’m not accustomed to warfare. I was reminded of this recently.

My 10-year-old had received an invitation to a paintball birthday party. According to the Evite, dads were welcome to play. Covering my uncertainty, I donned a mask, picked up a gun and feigned confidence. Some kid then told me a paintball was lodged in the end of my barrel. Did he think I didn’t know that?

Another kid, who missed the lodged paintball interchange, picked me first for his team. After one game, he asked to switch teams. I felt no insult, only the sting of paintballs that had peppered my frame.

During a break, a veteran player told me his secret: “Keep moving. If you hunker down, you’re dead.” A sheriff’s deputy at church echoed his advice. “You have to stay aggressive. It takes a killer instinct to stay alive.”

At the end of play, my son put words to my feelings: “I hope I never have to go to war.”

On Monday, we honor both those who have gone to war and those who have been willing to. It’s Veterans Day, an obscure federal holiday that should not be so.

On Monday, my Air Force vet father and his Vietnam buddies will watch Sergeant York and Midway for the umpteenth time. The rest of us will wonder why the Post Office is closed.

On Monday, I hope we’ll all remember at least one story of service and sacrifice. I’ll be thinking about Louis Zamperini, the remarkable World War II veteran whom Laura Hillenbrand profiled a few years back in her book, Unbroken.

A collegiate track star, Zamperini had Olympic hopes interrupted by war. He entered the Army, made numerous bombing runs as B-24 bombardier, survived death-defying shootouts with Japanese fighter planes and ultimately crashed in the Pacific.

He floated in a grossly inadequate life raft for seven weeks, barely surviving on an occasional bird or fish. Sharks, thirst, typhoons and Japanese bullets riddled the weeks with misery.

Landfall only brought capture and three years of progressively more debilitating torture: starvation, illness, cold, hard labor, ruthless beatings, psychological warfare.

Miraculously, Louie Zamperini endured. He kept moving. He stayed aggressive. When his body was too weak, his mind led the way. He recounted the details of delicious recipes while starving at sea. He planted dysentery-laced stool samples into the meals of his torturers.

You and I live in freedom today because millions of vets throughout our nation’s history kept moving. They stayed aggressive. In the face of unfathomable fear, they mustered incalculable courage.

Courage, G.K. Chesterton wrote, is actually a contradiction in terms. “It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.” Sounds like a veteran to me.

 

Kevin Thompson is an opinion columnist in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.


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