Wednesday, November 11, 2009
When I came down from the bedroom this morning, DW was prepping the animals' food. She turned to me and exclaimed, "Good morning, my vet!" I looked around the room, half-expecting to see our veterinarian sipping a cup of coffee. No, she was speaking to me, and kissed my morning mouth. I was surprised at this greeting because, aside from my veteran status and how it applies to my health care, the subject just hasn't come up, not even on Veterans Day.
I grabbed a cup of coffee and went to the dungeon to do my reading for the morning. I had an email from Crash, thanking me, vet to vet, for serving. Again, I was a bit surprised. Back atcha, buddy. A couple fellow bloggers had some Veteran Day messages on their sites, so I was well-primed for reflection.
If I hadn't mentioned it before, would you, my dedicated readers, ever think I had been in the military? Be honest.
Me either. Yet, my story is probably not much different than a lot of guys around my age who served. I was against the war, yet my lottery number was 8, making me a very likely candidate for being drafted. I did poorly in Community College, wanted badly to be out of the house, knew a guy who was in the Navy who talked it up, and not seeing many options, volunteered. Two minutes into boot camp I thought I had made a horrible mistake.
But I made the most of it, which was easy, actually, because I was already used to sometimes illogical authority, and had a goal, which was to get medical training and help with the care of returning soldiers. I was assigned to be the Recruit Chief Petty Officer of my company (093), graduated as an E2, and had tested so well that I was asked if I might prefer to go to the Naval Academy. I declined. Hospital Corps School was a breeze because I already had a bit of medical training, and Ocular Tech School was even easier, as I had a year's experience in the eye clinic at my first duty station (Annapolis - Ha!). At the end of my B School, I was asked if I might be interested in taking over the School. The only provision was that I would have to re-enlist. Again, I declined. As much as I liked the job I was doing, I looked forward to the end of my four years.
I didn't see any action (the war wound down shortly after my enlistment), and because of that, I've never really considered myself a soldier — more of a lesser veteran — but a caregiver to soldiers. That part I carry with me.
Reading done, breakfast eaten, chores completed, I prepared to go into town. On top of the mail to be sent out was a note asking me to pick up a "memorial flower." I do every year, and either wear it in a button hole on my work jacket or wrap it around the rear view mirror in my rig. I was curious why DW wanted one but didn't ask. (She later said she wanted one because the one I had put in her car several years before had faded.) Instead I wondered how I might ask for two.
There were four guys from the local VFW at the entrance of the Safeway. I peeled off five singles on my way to them.
"Hello young feller!" He was about eight years my senior.
"Well, bless your heart for thinking so!" I handed the guy the bills and he reached for a poppy. "Can I get two, please? One for my wife."
"Sure thing! And thank you!"
"Yes, thank you." Another vet. With a neurological disorder. His eyes showed a deep, struggling-to-engage, sadness.
I used to tend bar. Not a fancy bar; a neighborhood place in a very questionable neighborhood. The bar was the headquarters for the local yet powerful gang, and the only reason I was hired was because I dated a woman of their ethnicity and therefore I could be somewhat trusted. (I could also count and knew how to handle a gun.) The place survived on the regular patrons who weren't gang bangers: Postal workers, Mexican day laborers, suppliers for the gang (the only tippers), and their women.
Occasionally, strangers would walk in, middle-aged white guys. No, make that gray guys. They always came alone, never said a word, had a couple drinks while staring at the counter, and then left. The same eyes. Nam vets.
I say thanks. I give thanks. I also mourn.
Posted by bastinptc at 3:03 PM