Like many Americans, I did not consciously identity myself as being from a family with a strong military history. My family was proud of its participation in the military, but there was little talk about specific military experiences. Still, I had certainly picked up the notion that the United States of America was “the home of the free and the land of the brave,” and that the country had an obligation as a world power and defender of democracy to be active militarily in other lands; and, of course, I believed we were the champions of the oppressed, in a world threatened by Communism. I also assumed that I would be drafted one day and would serve my active duty obligation. We trusted our leaders.
I identified closely with my mother’s extended family who were of Christian Syrian heritage. I was proud of my Arab-American identity; but we didn’t make a big deal about it. Growing up in the Pittsburgh area, my concept of “ethnic” meant Syrian and Lebanese Americans, Polish, Italian and other European, Mediterranean, and Black ethnic and racial heritages. Most of all, we were blue-collar western Pennsylvanians who enjoyed sports, taverns, bowling leagues, roller skating rink, church, rock ’n’ roll, dances and family and friends.
My family upbringing, like so many other veterans’, also involved an important religious component that became both a strength and source of conflict during the war and afterwards. I converted to Catholicism in middle school and was a devout Catholic throughout college. I took the church’s teachings very seriously, to include “thou shalt not kill.”
I entered Dickinson College in 1961 and found my way into Army ROTC. It was better than two years of gym, and offered me a chance to serve as an officer,