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 Guard visited the Chicago StoryCorps booth with his neighbor, 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.
Guard 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?” Ashamed to be Americans.
Kids at school were reacting to news of the Watergate scandal. “And I thought about this,” Guard said. “I spent four years and two wars fighting for my country, and my children are ashamed to be Americans?”
But he 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,” Guard 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.”
To soldiers today, he says: I understand the price they pay. And it is appreciated.
Bill Healy produces StoryCorps Chicago for WBEZ and teaches journalism at Northwestern University. A podcast he produced was a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Audio Reporting. Follow him @chicagoan.