A time for taking a moment to salute those who have served is upon us. Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of Summer. Pools open, grills light up, and vacations begin in earnest. Most importantly the holiday is in place for us to remember the men and women who died during service in the U.S. Armed Forces, a tradition that began after the U.S. Civil War. Veterans Day marks the foray into fall and ushers in the beginning of the holiday rush. And more importantly, it's a day to salute those who've served their country. So I salute those who've served, and those who've given it all. These days that combine both honoring our armed services and opening the gates of America's two favorite seasons - summertime and the holidays - come with their fair share of beer. And I know I can't think of one of these occasions that didn't also involve a link to beer in some form.
In my family's past few generations, we didn't have anyone fall in service to the nation, but we do have a number of servicemen in the family tree. My father's uncle, Gene Robinson, was a pilot from Southern Illinois and served in World War II as a radio operator and gunner on the Western Front. His B-17 plane was shot down in 1944 and at 21 he served a year in a German prison camp. He was liberated by one of General Patton's divisions and returned to the States. I can remember many a summer weekend spent visiting with Uncle Gene when he would come to DC to visit the local VFW and visit the city's war memorials. He would solemnly discuss his compatriots in the Army who didn't make it back, with beer in hand and pride in his eyes. How does this relate to my own path to opening a brewery? Well my dad fondly tells the story of going fishing with Uncle Gene back in Illinois along with some of Gene's brethren from the VFW. The troop found themselves at the middle of the lake and my dad noted how thirsty he was. Gene and his veteran buddies smiled wryly and Gene commented, "We didn't bring any pop so if you don't want to drink lake water, you'll have to have one of these." He then tossed an Old Stag to my dad. It was my dad's first beer and I'm pretty sure if not for that fateful fishing trip I would not have become the beer enthusiast I am today (heck, I might be opening a soda factory if they'd brought pop!).
One of my mother's brothers, Roger Johnson, served in the Navy during the early 1960's and was active duty on one of the ships involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis blockade. My mom used to joke that the tense times during the standoff must have skyrocketed beer sales around the country! My mom also noted that she learned how to drink beer from my uncle after he retired from the Navy. Despite my dad's protestations to the contrary, I'm pretty certain my mom taught me how to drink beer, so again I owe some of my roots in beer-dom to extended family who served their country.
Finally, my own father, Robert Willey, Jr., was drafted and was in the Army from 1970 (the year my parents' were married!) until 1972, stationed primarily at Fort Dix in New Jersey. The newlyweds adopted a kitten soon after my father was drafted, trying to add a semblance of normalcy to an otherwise disruptive first year of marriage. My dad was discharged before his unit was sent overseas and soon after he and my mom rented a house in Alexandria, VA. My Uncle Roger and his wife were also living in Alexandria at that time. Soon after reconnecting in VA, they were all out for dinner and drinks one evening and took the celebration back to my parents' new abode. My mom introduced their new cat to my Aunt & Uncle, and explained that they had initially struggled to come up with a suitable name for the new addition to the family. Someone had finally suggested just saying the first thing that came to mind and settling on that as the name; my dad immediately blurted out "Budweiser" because that's what he recalled wanting most at the time. This was still a fitting name years later as the four of them at that moment were all holding cans of Bud, with which they promptly toasted and finished! So the name stuck and low and behold, I was born into a family with a cat named after a beer (and the fact that my mom was ok with this was a good sign the family would approve of my future business decisions).
I'm grateful to have family members who served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces, and while none of them lost their lives during their tenure, my great uncle and uncle (who was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery) are no longer with us; our family has a rich tradition of taking time on holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day to reflect on the experiences those family members had, recalling the names and tales of their friends and fellow servicemen who served and remembering those who did not make it back. For me, I'll forever toast my great uncle, uncle, father, and their peers for their service and also for weaving a web of beer tales that helped push me down the path that I now find myself on.
As you salute and celebrate in your own ways, next time you open a beer, craft or otherwise, make sure you give your own toast to the men and women of our military, past and present. You never know who around you may have their own tales of family or friends who served and how those men and women impacted their lives. And if you come from my family, there's no higher toast than that done with a delicious beer in hand. So cheers to those who have served, past, present, and future; and never forgot those who gave their lives in service. We salute you all.