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Hi, I’m a Veteran. No Thanks are Necessary

7:01 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

Today is Veterans Day. I know this because I am a veteran. I also know this because I have a Cold War service medal, which ironically was not invented until about 5 years ago, long after the Cold War ended abruptly. Plus, my daughter sent me a happyVeterans Day email as she does every year.

The nation reveres veterans much more than they did a few decades ago, and they should. It is a tough life putting your ass on the line to save some other person’s ass…or in some cases, asshole. You know who you are. I’ll not get ugly today.

I joined the Air Force in 1977. Viet Nam was still a fresh memory and people tended to look down on saps like me who joined the military voluntarily. A life of gold chains, wooly chest hair, atrocious bell bottoms, and doing the Hustle while teetering on platform heels was supposed to have been nirvana. But if I had it to do all over again, I’d do it in a heart beat. In fact, sometimes I wish I had stayed and weathered a couple of wars. As it is for almost everyone who experiences it, military service is a life changing experience and it changed me, radically and for the better. Besides, I’ve not much of a dancer and I knew better than to wear those ridiculous bell bottoms, even back in the day.

300 Days a Year Traveling

My military was in a state of flux. I joined one month after the end of the Viet Nam era GI Bill . I did this because I wanted a particular job as an aircraft mechanic more than I needed the benefits. It was the soonest I could get an enlistment appointment anyway. I got to pay for my educational benefits for my trouble and never used the small amount of money the Air Force collected from me because it was too meager to do anything with. I didn’t get the money back as I recall. I had planned to finish college while on duty, but I was gone almost 300 days a year traveling to every continent other than Australia and Antarctica. In the end, I figure I got the better end of the education deal anyway.

The only veteran’s benefit I’ve ever used was a VA Loan. The benefit consisted of shaving about 1 point off the loan interest and being comfortable in the knowledge that if I defaulted the mortgage company would get paid while I got to declare bankruptcy. I used it twice while living in Ohio. I planned to use it again when I moved to California, but the top amount available was about $100,ooo less than a house cost at the beginning of the ultra-expensive housing bubble. In the end, I got the house based on the higher wages jump started from my military service. It was a win/win situation even if I had to pay the extra point and come up with a substantial down payment.

I’m supposed to get a coffin flag when I die, as did my grandfather who fought and was wounded twice in WWI. My Dad, who served aboard submarines in WWII didn’t get one. I paid for it. I suspect my daughter will pay for mine. Sorry about that Sweetie.

My war was pretty peaceful. Jimmy Carter managed to keep us out of a shooting war for my 4-year enlistment, though I did tow airplanes out of the way to make room for airplanes picking up Delta Force soldiers on their way to Operation Eagle Claw in Iran. I didn’t know that until long after the failed raid. I don’t take credit for my small part in the raid. The real troops deserved more credit than they ever got. However, I do take partial credit for felling the Berlin Wall. I figure flying troops all over the world, including over the wall and into West Berlin’s Templehof airport, was as instrumental as Ronald Reagan kicking over an Iron Curtain from a podium after it had already rusted through its foundation. Ronnie hogged all the credit – the selfish bastard – but I don’t hold a grudge about him never thanking me for my service.

Other than my daughter, almost no one thanks me for my service and that’s OK. Veterans Day is about the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and Coast Guardsmen who put themselves in harm’s way. Their service was certainly more harrowing than dropping into remote Turkish airfields to deliver supplies to listening posts on the Black Sea. It’s hard to complain when you get tea and cookies for delivering some mail and C-Rations, even if the excessively short gravel runway almost killed you to do it.

Had there been a need, and there were several times I came close, I would’ve gone into combat. There is no question in my mind. I’d have been honored to pay the dues necessary to be a citizen, plus a little more for the folks who didn’t serve. I’m no 1 percent, Mormon missionary when it comes to paying my fair share. I was as glad to do it as I was to deliver medication to disaster areas, Christmas hams to lonely British troops in Kenya (the home of the future US President), and fresh eggs to the Navy mess and base exchange in Guantanamo Bay. Besides, Ronnie and I were holding off the commie hordes poised to invade and buy up all the spare McDonalds franchises.

I Don’t Expect Thanks on Veterans Day

I don’t expect thanks on Veterans Day. I just did my job like so many other Americans do. True, I did it for abysmally low pay (that’s not a new problem) and under sometimes very dangerous conditions. You try losing an engine while struggling over the Italian Alps during a storm. It’s a bit more intense than a ride on the Matterhorn Bobsled at Disneyland. Besides, they did give me hazardous duty pay – $100 per month I think – to cover near misses with Italian airlines in the dead of night or collapsing landing gear in Las Vegas…that last one was less of a picnic than it might seem.

But while I don’t expect thanks, I do expect some small measure of respect. It infuriates me when a nimrod who shoots old men while duck hunting and takes people into battle based on his “service” as a multi-deferment college student who had, “more important things to do” than go to Viet Nam questions my patriotism.

But, I find it especially insulting to have my military service questioned by fellow veterans because I don’t agree that a man who thinks running a was is just like running Staples after your company buys them out. We had a business man in charge of the DoD once – Robert McNamara. He learned that you can’t run a military at war with bar charts and pie graphs. He hated himself for the rest of his life after taking too long and killing too many men and women to learn that lesson.

But aside from the affront to me personally, I get particularly worked up that a person who, “solemnly swear(s) (or affirms) that [they] will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,”…and will,” bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over [them], according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help [them] God,” would so easily cast aside the most important and cherished Constitutional right of them all – the freedom of speech.

I get worked up not so much for myself, but for my fellow citizens – right or wrong, agreeable or disagreeable, veteran or not – when my patriotism and service is questioned. I still take my oath seriously, even 35 years after I took it. And so, in my own small way, I try to make my country a better place and make the lives of my fellow citizens a little safer and more equitable. I do this not only because I swore an oath, but because I believe it is the right thing to do. It is my honor to do it, even if I’ve never had a shot fired at me. The First Amendment is the final weapon in my arsenal and I’ll be damned if I’ll allow anyone to criticize my fellow citizens for using it.

I offer my humble thanks to all veterans today, but no thanks are necessary for me. I’m simply glad to have helped out.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks! More than politics, more than pop culture & humor.

Veteran’s Day: May the Stories of Those Who Served Live On

4:19 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

USS HollandUSS Holland (AS-3) Off San Diego With Submarines Alongside (circa 1935) 

As I write this two American flags hang on my wall. Both are folded into militarily tight triangles and protected by flag boxes. One contains a Purple Heart, the other the WWII Service Medal and Pacific Service Medal. One day my own flag with a Cold War Service Medal will join them.

 

WWI Gas VictimsWWI Poison Gas Victims 

My grandfather received the Purple Heart after being shot and mustard-gassed in contested Alsace-Lorraine. He knew his location only by the strange melange of French and German the locals spoke.

His injuries were severe. Gruesome battlefield triage located him near the bottom of the list based on the likelihood his wounds were fatal. They laid him on a blanket spread across war-churned mud to die. He received only a daily ration of bread and some water. After a week, he beat the odds and finally received some medical attention, eventually going home.

The Mail Had to Go Through
He tried to reenlist at the beginning of WWII, but was barred because he held a critical wartime job – clerk on a railway post office shuttling through a dozen of more Montana and North Dakota ‘burgs. His car is on display at the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento, proof the world is very small.

His daughter went to work at Boeing as a draftsman working on the B-29. My mother worked as a crane operator at a former toy factory in Toledo converted to manufacturing tank barrels. They were Rosie the Riveters and every bit as important and deserving of praise as the men they supported.

YP-73 at Kodiak, AKYP-73 in for Repairs, Kodiak, AK (4/10/41) 

My father joined the Naval Reserve midway through his senior year in high school, only months before Dec. 7. He became a radioman and immediately shipped out to Alaska. There, he served aboard the YP-73, a converted salmon fishing boat tasked with patrolling the Aleutians.

Like many men of the era he was taciturn about his service. A few years before he died he told me a new story he’d never mentioned before. I’m still not sure why he did.

On Dec. 8, 1941 – less than 24 hours after the war began – his small boat forced a Dutch ship carrying a cargo of Japanese silk to stop off Dutch Harbor. His boarding party found a Japanese officer escorting the cargo and took him prisoner. Surely one of the first prisoners of the war.

Aboard the Gar One Last Time

Gar Bown OnUSS Gar (SS-206) at Mare Island, CA (circa 1941) 

Later he became a submariner, serving two war patrols aboard the USS Gar. After the patrols, he transferred to the personal staff of the Commander of Submarine Forces (Pacific), Adm. Charles Lockwood, aboard the submarine tender USS Holland.

Growing up, I heard many tales about the Pacific islands and countries he visited. They were unstintingly light-hearted, “There was one time went to a beer garden and…,” they usually began. I assumed his war patrols had been relatively combat-free and that service on the Admiral’s staff wasn’t exactly tough duty.

It turned out my assumption was wrong.

My Dad died at 86. He suffered a stroke a few months before pneumonia finally got him. The stroke left him semi-conscious for the better part of a week and every few hours he’d verbalize his delusions.

He talked to my mother. He took up his old vocation by controlling aircraft in his sleep. He described a sinister organization called, The Group that imprisoned him in a school. Oddly, The Group’s commandant was one of his least favorite people, Pat Robertson.

One afternoon he started mumbling and his voice grew steadily louder. He shouted the names of his Gar shipmates. He cried out for help and wept as if holding a shipmate during his last moments. It was clear from his fevered talk that he was back 65 years aboard a submarine under attack.

I suppose he could’ve been dreaming about a fantasy like The Group, but his voice betrayed an emotion and reality his Group rants never had. I listened to his cries for help, stung that I could to nothing to ease his pain. On that sunny afternoon I became his crewmate holding him as he held his shipmate. That pain taught me something about the man I’d known my entire life.

I saw him in a different light and was boundlessly proud of him.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!