Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 6-19-05
Jeff Gill

Whistling Down the Road to Father’s Day

Other than annoying you all with tales of my forester, craftsman, historian, church elder, all-around-good-guy dad, my other main role model for fatherhood was Sheriff Andy Taylor.
I’m surprised that no one has done a “backstory” treatment of “The Andy Griffith Show” and his main character, such as we’ve had for “Gone With the Wind” or “Batman.” Of course, the modern thinking would go “why would we want to know more about a likeable, friendly, sympathetic character?”
But while my liking and even admiration for Andy (yes, I know he’s fictional, more’s the pity) has continued into middle age and parenthood, the sense I’ve had of his story has developed and grown.
What little discussion you find on the internet or the one book on the show I’ve found tends to home in on the lost wife (deceased, as is obliquely said once) or the strange fortunes of Miss Crump.
But I have to admit that my own curiosity has filled in one blank with the idea that Andy Taylor was a Korean War veteran. He’d be about the right age, and the peculiar fact that he’s a law officer in rural North Carolina actually makes it odder, not more normal that he carries no weapon. Small villages like Mayberry would have taken guns for granted, especially on the hip of a sheriff.
Andy doesn’t carry one, which says to me he’s been there, done that, and doesn’t need to wear the t-shirt. His skillful use of non-violence in that time and place also makes me suspect that he’s seen a fair amount of the after-effects of violence and ammunition, and is willing to go to great lengths to avoid that outcome.
Over and over, you pick up on the fact that the sheriff may sound like a good ol’ boy from down on the farm, but knows more than a thing or two about the big city and even beyond . . . like Tokyo, or Seoul, perhaps?
And his handling of green, inexperienced lower ranks (sorry, Barney) says he’s been there, too.
So this all points me in the direction of Andy Taylor having seen the grey and buff hills of the Korean peninsula, and combat there during the “police action.” While vets of World War II pick up the deserved appellation of “greatest generation,” as we come to new appreciation of the sacrifices made by Vietnam vets, and we better thank those fighting in the Middle East as they serve, let alone after, Korea continues to be “the forgotten war.” Even the high-rated show placed there, “M*A*S*H,” was generally thought to be a Vietnam surrogate, taking even that from them (which would surprise the author of the book that inspired the movie, written by a Korean medical vet himself).
Korean war soldiers saw combat on a scale and with a frequency that would overshadow what many Vietnam vets or earlier conflicts would experience. They have played their own part in silence and reticence, not wanting to speak of their time at the front anymore than most who were at D-Day or Iwo Jima do. Like Andy Taylor? Could be.
And that generation, too, is slipping away from us with their stories too often untold; not as quickly as the 1940’s generation, but too, too fast.
One who told at least major parts of his story who left us recently is Col. David Hackworth, the most decorated living American soldier at the time of his death. “About Face” tells many stories, including his time in combat during Korea (and Vietnam in the latter half of the book), and he wrote columns defending the front line soldier against indifference at home and corruption up top until the day of his death from a cancer suspected to grow from the defoliants used in Vietnam.
I would honor his memory, and that of all Korean War vets in particular this Father’s Day, and I hope they don’t mind if I quietly wedge a fictional character from 60’s TV among their proud number.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you have stories to share, send them to

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