A colleague recently encouraged me to read the Sci Fi classic Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. I've not read a whole lot of Sci Fi, but I enjoy it when I allow for the indulgence and this was no exception. The plotline is a bit slow, with several long passages about the necessity of self-sacrifice in a civil, democratic society, but these were not unpleasurable and I very much appreciated the force of Heinlein's argument. At the same time, I learned a good deal about what it's like to be an elite soldier including the intricacies of boot camp, paratroopering, and military hierarchy.
The "truth" of Heinlein's descriptions was driven home to me this weekend when I had the privilege of meeting a middle-aged man who had served 10 years in the Army airborne division. He told me the story of the jump wings his father had earned after parachuting into Normandy during the D-Day invasion. The man had given his son his wings upon entering the army and on the day of his first jump, the son asked the seargent to pin them on him. The seargent demurred, suggesting that he get the CO to pin them. But the man told him, "an NCO pinned these on my dad and I want you to pin them on me." Choked-up, the battle-hardened jump leader pinned the wings onto the private.
Before reading Starship Troopers, I didn't know about the "jump wing" pinning ceremony. I thank that man for telling me his story--I wish I had gotten his name.