Some dates are remembered because of what happened on them. December 7, 1941 and June 6, 1944 are remembered for their significance in the last World War. (The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that got America into the war occurred on 12/7/41; the allied invasion of Europe began on 6/6/44.)
Other dates are special for personal reasons. My wife and I celebrate February 3 and June 17 every year, the first date being the day we met (in 1976), the second being the day we married (in ’78: we had a long courtship).
And then there are dates that are interesting for numerologists and number-worshippers. I’m kind of one of those (the latter, not the former). I have found numbers fascinating since the first time I learned how batting averages were computed. I must have been six or seven, and I was studying my collection of baseball cards one night when it occurred to me to try to determine if any player had gotten base hits half the time he batted.
I looked at the back of Ted Williams’ card, figuring he would have been the most likely to have accomplished that feat, since everyone said he was the best hitter in the game (he was). I checked his “at bat” column. He had around 450 of those. Then I checked his “hits” column. He had about 170 of those. I was pretty sure that wasn’t half. And then I looked at his batting average, and it was something like .375, and in that moment I realized that batting average related to the question I’d been pondering.
The next day at school some older kid (probably a third grader) scoffed at me when I shared my thoughts on Ted Williams with him.
“Of course, he didn’t get a hit half the times he batted, dummy,” he said. “No one can bat .500. Nobody other than Williams can even bat .400.”
That night I checked the back of Williams card again, and sure enough, he only had one season where he’d batted as high as .400 (.406 in 1941), and none of the other cards had anything as high as .380.
Anyway, that’s how I learned about batting averages, and I’ve been in love with numbers ever since.
So, in case you haven’t noticed, we are experiencing a number lover’s calendar day this week. Friday will be November 11, 2011, or 11/11/11, which is one of those very rare dates that folks like me like to think about. Actually, we only get three of these a century.
There’s 10/10/10, which we’ve already had, and there will be 12/12/12 next year. You could also count the aughts (01/01/01, et al.) but I don’t because they are really just 1/1/01, which isn’t the same, if you’re still with me.
Of course, if you’re really serious about this stuff, you don’t even count the three I count, because you have to use all four numbers for the year, as in 10/10/2010, which kind of messes the whole thing up, if you catch my drift.
And so, the ultimate purists only allow these dates to have cosmic significance: October 10, 1010, November 11, 1111, and December 12, 1212. And since the current calendar came into existence well after those dates had already come and gone, they weren’t even missed by whoever was fascinated by numbers way back then.
But the one coming up this week, Friday, November 11, is also special because it is Veterans’ Day in America. Of course, we have one of those every year, but this one, probably because it coincidentally falls on 11/11/11, seems to be garnering just a tad more attention.
And since I’m a veteran (commissioned Air Force officer from 1968 to 1972), I’m paying a little more attention to it as well.
But my take is a little different from that of the VFW legionnaires and the politicians who salute their service. I am proud that I wore my country’s uniform for those four years, but I don’t need anyone paying respect to me for having done so. I signed up when I began college (through my school’s Air Force ROTC program), because I thought it was the right thing to do. At the time (1964), the country was starting to engage militarily in Viet Nam, and I thought we needed to be there.
I wasn’t rabidly gung-ho to stop the spread of communism, but I wasn’t particularly opposed to the idea either. I just thought young men had a duty to their country, and I wasn’t about to shirk mine.
Of course, by the time I graduated, got my commission, and entered active service, my views on the war, which by then was claiming as many as 300 American lives a week, had changed considerably. And when I was chosen by my peers to be the president of my wing’s junior officer council, I found myself advocating for peace talks in meetings with the likes of a three-star general.
So let me tell you a little about military service. It’s a job. Really. It’s as simple as that. They train you to do what you need to do in a variety of circumstances, and you go out and do it. The rest, all the glory and heroism and brotherhood and patriotism, is for historians and film-makers.
The guys (and now gals) who wear military uniforms are just like the rest of us. They have jobs that they sometimes love and sometimes hate. They do things that are often tedious and only occasionally exciting.
Yes, they do get sent to far off places and are sometimes placed in harm’s way (more often in the last decade), but when they aren’t dodging bullets or avoiding land mines (which is most of the time), they just trudge along like the rest of us, wondering if they are ever going to live the life they’d really like to live.
I served my country while I wore the uniform. I like to think I’m serving it still. Not in any grand fashion to be sure. But we all do our part, don’t we? Because we’re all patriots, aren’t we?