Grab the nearest book. Open it and go to the tenth word. Do a Google Image Search of the word. Write about what the image brings to mind.
Photographers, artists, poets: show us BOOKS.
The nearest book turned out to be Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose. The 10th word is “Airborne” on page 15. Google Image search: searching, searching…
Well the book Band of Brothers is the story of Easy Company, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, US Army, during World War 2. The Book of Stephen Ambrose was made into a wonderful HBO series by Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielburg. I believe the 82nd Airborne Division is also one of those units that you don’t want to meet in the dark…
Now the story… Julius Malema in South Africa has it all wrong sometimes. He says that all white people only had good times in the old South Africa.
Well, since before I got born, there was an “Armed Struggle” going on in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was already in jail when I was born. The ANC’s Umkhonto We Sizwe was blowing up civilian targets like Wimpy restaurants. And the sound of bombs in our ears made that we could not hear the hurt of other people. For which I am very sorry indeed. But you know, when you are a schoolboy, and a car bomb explodes in the shopping mall’s parking lot where you just walked past- you tend to think someone is out to kill you…
All white males had to go to the South African Defense Force, for compulsory military service, some got 2 years. others 1 year. You had no choice- it was 2 years army, 4 years police or prison service, or jail time with a criminal record… that was our choices.
I went to university first. I studied in the city of Bloemfontein, in the centre of our country. When I was finishing my university studies, I was already married- we study 6 long years to be ministers in our church. Then I had to go to the Defense Force. My wife had a good job in Bloemfontein, so I tried to get into one of the military units there, when we had to fill in the Army recruitment forms. In Bloemfontein there was an Infantry unit, but who likes to walk to any battle? There was an Armored Division- I tried for that as my 1st choice. And then: the elite unit- the Parabats… 1 Parachute Battalion. One of the best military units in the world at the time… I put that on for my second choice. But: it was a matter of pride that a National Service Chaplain also earns his wings- by doing the full course, from selection, through the hell and back, up to Jump Training. And I was not very fit then…
So, maybe I was protected by heavenly design… I got the draw to go to the Engineering Corps in Kroonstad. We did have to go to Heidelberg first, where all the Army Chaplains were going through basic training, and then an Officer’s Course. I had a good time with the Engineers- seeing how rivers get spanned by military bridges, how landmines are removed, how clean water is supplied to the army, and demolition work… explosives was such fun. Diffusing IEDs– now that is scary stuff!
And no- I never shot at nobody.. I was in one of the last groups of men that were forced to do Military Service in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was already freed, the negotiations for the first democratic elections was underway, the fighting was finished, it was already time to start building a new South Africa where everybody would have equal rights.
I am not sorry for doing my time in the army. I learned a lot of valuable lessons in life.
I am sorry for the hurt of our country’s past. It was only during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the 1994 elections that it came to light what dark things happened in some military and police circles. For that I am ashamed.
But since very small, I grew up in a country where mothers cried… Hector Peterson‘s mother. And the mothers of so many white young men who came home from the Border in body bags, dying for the old men’s dreams in a war that makes no sense now.
As I grew older, I think I gained a lot more wisdom. We were young once… and we were soldiers. Damn good ones…. against an enemy armed with AK 47’s, and RPG 7’s, laying landmines on farm roads, bombs in public places- it was a war. We thought it a just war against terrorism and communism… and now we feel even more shunned and ashamed than the Vietnam War vets.
I am so glad the war is past, even if Julius Malema wants another one. It is a time for peace, a time for building, a time for growing and sowing, all the positive things that there might be a time for according to Ecclesiastes 3.
But deep down… I always wondered if I ever would have been able to earn those Parabat wings… if I would be good enough…