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Jeff Whitten: A Pekingese, Army birthday
editor's notes

In case you missed it, Wasabi the Pekingese won best in show at Westminster on Sunday.

Good for it.

I have known a Pekingnese in my life, but it’s name was not Wasabi (I have also had a run-in with wasabi, the mustard). The Pekingnese I knew was named FuFu, pronounced Foo-Foo.

He was a family pet in my youth and used to accompany us on long camping trips, perched atop a cooler on the back seat floorboard, cooling his undercarriage and looking like a tiny Chinese warlord.

Yet what I remember most about FuFu all these decades later is the time he got hold of my father’s upper dental plate. Dad had gotten a few of his teeth knocked out by the family beagle Raindrop some time before this, if I have my family’s chronology in order, and as a result had to wear the plate.

Raindrop, by the way, liked to go into my parents’ bedroom and bark at himself in the mirror. He would’ve been famous on Youtube.

Anyhow, Dad, who all the time I knew him had a habit of leaving his teeth on whatever flat surface he came across wherever he felt like taking them out, accidentally left them in reach of FuFu while we were going somewhere in the family vehicle.

FuFu apparently decided since Dad was always popping them in his mouth they must taste pretty good. All I know is all of a sudden there’s FuFu, sitting in the back seat floorboard wearing Dad’s teeth.

FuFu had them on upside down, which is understandable because being Chinese he didn’t understand American dentistry.

The teeth gave FuFu a gigantic (for a dog standing less than a foot tall) under bite that made him look like one of my more pugnacious aunts or a particularly sinister Chinese warlord. As a result, it struck my 12-or-13year-old self as about the funniest thing I had ever seen, and my Mom and sisters also found it hilarious. Dad just wanted his teeth back.

Editor’s note: If you have never seen a Pekingnese wearing dentures before, I recommend it highly. I suspect by now someone has probably put one on Youtube.

Onward: The U.S. Army turned 246 on Monday.

It has been a part of my life all my life. Dad, after a hitch in the Navy, joined the Army before I turned 1-year-old so he and Mom could get out of Upstate South Carolina, where generations of both sides of my family come from dating back to the 1700s. Dad wanted to see “what’s over the next hill,” as he liked to put it.

As a result, we moved around a bunch courtesy Uncle Sam, and lived in France until DeGaulle kicked the Americans out, then went to Germany and then back stateside, and Dad served tours in Vietnam and Korea during his long career as a soldier.

We had a good life, though back then, you didn’t get treated as a hero – something Vietnam veterans know all too well. And despite growing up an Army brat, I never really appreciated the sacrifices he and other soldiers, marines, sailors, coast guardsmen and airmen (and women) made until I enlisted myself and served six years in the Field Artillery. I never saw war (and am glad of that), and spent much of my time in the field in Germany training to blow up Russians or, when back in garrison, trying to hide from NCOs. In short, I was a made member of the Spec 4 Mafia, and put my hands in my pockets whenever I could get away with it, just because sergeants hated it. But I did my job. And I made lifelong friends.

I also eventually came away understanding the military is not for everybody, but service should be. I have long believed the U.S. should bring back a draft and require all its citizens ages 18-26 to complete a 3-year hitch in the military, or the Peace Corps, or Americorps, or as a first responder or teacher, or in some other service to a greater good, before going on to college. That may not make us a better country and it might not create better citizens, but then again, it might. Especially since of the things I suspect we’re losing as a nation is the idea that in addition to rights we have responsibilities.

What was it former President John F. Kennedy, a World War II hero, said?

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

These days, those are questions too often getting asked the other way around.

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