As a teenager, I and my fellow students at Little Rock's Mills High School took the ASVAB test. It was, and still is, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, an evaluation of a student's suitability for a career in the military.
I don't remember it being required but a teacher encouraged me and others to take the test to measure our strengths and aptitude for learning in different subject areas. At least I think she encouraged others. Maybe she just had concerns about me and my future.
The test also, obviously, gave the military additional information from which it could recruit a new set of young men and women to join their ranks. They never had much of a chance with me.
Don't get me wrong. I have a massive level of respect for people who serve. As a high schooler, though, it just never entered my mind that military service was the right path for me. My parents didn't have a military background. Their encouragement focused for the most part on post-secondary education, so off I went to four years studying journalism at Arkansas State University.
There are times when I think back and wonder what life would be like had I joined the military. The reality is there is no more vital and noble service than to devote one's career, or even a few years, in service to the nation's defense.
My experience reflects the importance of influencers in one's life. It's no surprise that military service -- not unlike law enforcement, firefighting or pastors -- runs in families. When we have models for our own behaviors or choices, it's easier to envision a future that resembles the lives of those we know, love and respect.
It was later in life I became aware and appreciative of military service among members of my extended family. Of my mom's five brothers, three served. Uncle George (Authur Brooks McClain) earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart during his overseas military service in World War II. Uncle Billy (James Cecil McClain) was a Army veteran in the same war. Uncle Bud (Wayne McClain) served in the Army in Korea.
On my dad's side, his younger brother James Harton served in the Army in Japan.
They've all passed away now but in their eras each completed his service to the nation and went on to build their civilian lives in south and central Arkansas.
Many aren't that fortunate. This Memorial Day gives us all a chance to remember those who died while in service to the nation. It doesn't hurt, though, to be mindful of everyone you know in the military, past and present, and later remember them on Veterans Day and other observances.
When the National Anthem plays at Baum-Walker Stadium or Bud Walton Arena, I stand gazing across the manicured field at the waving Stars and Stripes and imagine the men and women all over the world staying prepared to respond when they're called upon. I think of people like my long-ago Little Rock scoutmaster, Alan Mortier, who spent his career in the Air National Guard, followed by his son, Brian, who recently retired from the service after 37 years. I think of young men like Fayetteville's Tanner Wade, now serving at the U.S. Naval Academy.
As the crowd finishes melodically hailing the land of the free and home of the brave, there shouldn't be a single person focusing on Republicans and Democrats, or liberals and conservatives. Just Americans. And the brave souls who do the work to stand in harm's way when that's required to ensure this nation's promise lives on.
And I'm thankful.
Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Opinions expressed are those of the author.