“America is hope. It is compassion. It is excellence. It is valor.”

Other than a brief stint in UT’s Air Force ROTC, where my only claim to fame was to be nominated to the military ball court, I’ve never had the privilege of serving my country in the armed forces. But there are people close to me who have served and still do.

DooDaddy, a veteran of the Korean War, vividly remembers his first stint on guard duty like a bad dream. It came as a complete surprise to him, since he was expecting to be behind a desk. Fresh off the troopship, DooDaddy found himself clutching his rifle aboard a rickety train crossing the 38th Parallel into North Korea like The Little Engine That Could. He was sure it was all a terrible mistake.

“Mansfield, take the first watch and you’ll need your M1,” barked the master sergeant.

“It was the blackest night you ever saw in your life. I don’t think there was a lit match in all of Korea,” DooDaddy recalled. “I kept thinking, what am I gonna do if a communist jumps out of the bushes? I guess I’ll just have to kill him.”

Private Mansfield didn’t have to kill any commies, but he did get to see Marilyn Monroe perform in an outdoor amphitheater on the side of a mountain at his Army base in South Korea.

“We were all bundled up in parkas, because it was freezing,” said DooDaddy. “And Marilyn Monroe came prissing out onto the stage in this strapless purple-sequined number. She was a total knockout. It was the high point of the whole Korea trip.”

Indeed.

While still in Korea, DooDaddy was tasked with painting a life-size Nativity Scene for the 2nd Infantry Division Headquarters. “It was a pretty big deal,” DooDaddy said. “They promised me the Bronze Star, but all I got was a ribbon of merit.”

As children, we would ask DooDaddy how he fought the North Koreans from behind a desk.

“Well, I typed with one hand and fought with the other,” he replied.

Gmamma’s brother, my Uncle Billy, now deceased, had very different wartime experiences. An Army Colonel, William McClure Keeling was on active duty during four military conflicts: World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam (where he commanded the 18th Surgical Hospital at Quang Tri) and the first Iraq War, when he was called back to active duty under Operation Desert Storm. “It looked like we were in trouble in the Middle East, and they were going to need more people in the Army,” he said at the time, so he re-upped.

Uncle Billy passed away a year before Gmamma. He was her big brother and her only sibling. They were devoted to each other, alike in many of their charming eccentricities and their fierce devotion to family and country. Their father, my Grandfather Keeling was a decorated physician who served in WWI and was badly wounded in battle.

My cousin Jim Keeling continued the legacy serving 24 years on active duty in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War. Jim’s son Peyton Keeling served almost five years on active duty and is a veteran of two combat tours of duty in Afghanistan. Peyton earned the Ranger Tab and was awarded the Bronze Star for Service in Afghanistan.

I am especially proud of the soldiers in my family, on Memorial Day and always. The Greatest Generation understood duty and patriotism. They served. With honor and distinction. The torch has been passed down, but the flame still burns brightly.

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Uncle Billy as commander of the MASH unit in Quang Tri, Vietnam