Sam Guard graduated from high school on D-Day, when General Dwight D. Eisenhower launched troops onto the beaches of Normandy. Within two weeks of graduation, he turned himself in to an army post and began his military service. He was sent to the Pacific, earning his first battle star in the Philippines.
When Sam visited the Chicago StoryCorps booth with his neighbor and friend Ruth Knack, he described his time in the military as being like a marriage. “You think to yourself. ‘This is it. Let’s make the best of it.’ It is a continuous challenge and you need to rise to the occasion.”
He used the GI bill to go to college, but was soon recalled for the Korean conflict. He earned four more battle stars by being in 270 days of continuous combat. He recalls sleeping in a hole in the ground, without changing his clothes or washing himself. “Our sink was our steel helmet turned upside down,” he said.
In the trenches, he was reminded of something his mother would say when he was a kid. “No son of mine will ever serve in a war,” she would tell her friends. Her husband had served in the military and she believed that it was supposed to be the “war to end all wars.”
Sam remembers a time in the 1970s when his kids came home from school in tears.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. They said they were ashamed.
“Ashamed of what?” he asked. Ashamed to be Americans, they responded.
Kids at school were reacting to news of the Watergate scandal. "And I thought about this," Sam said. "I spent four years and two wars fighting for my country and my children are ashamed to be Americans?"
But Sam felt that the Watergate scandal was a net positive because the country corrected itself, without a revolution. “What seems like a great defeat is possibly the highest moment,” Sam said. “Our greatest insight into the ultimate truth. It’s that taking apart that may reveal its true nature.”
He looked into his children’s tiny faces and told them “that they are witnessing not the disgrace of America but the triumph of our system that works.”
And so, throughout his life there has always been a mixture of pride in his military service and shame in having to explain things to his family.
“We call them heroes? But what the hell is heroic about dropping bombs on people?” To soldiers today he would say: I have some understanding of the price they paid and I wish them well. It is appreciated.
StoryCorps’ mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. This excerpt was edited by WBEZ.