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.


Anonymous said...

bastin - no such thing as a "lesser veteran"; you sacrificed your time for our country (which you can never get back) and you deserve the thanks and respect of those, like me, who have never served.

Forrest Gump said...


and to your question, 'No, a hippy wordsmith isn't someone i'd tag as having served.'

Actually, i've been watching a fascinating doco in the Gallipoli landing which includes the Turks perspective. It had moments such as a Turk general seeing his troops running away from the beach when they ran out of ammo, to which he replied "Fix your bayonets and turn around. I'm ordering you not to fight but to die". To which they did. And yet the contract (non-serving) minesweepers when they came under fire quickly turned their boats around and said 'Um, i don't think so. Bye'.


Memphis MOJO said...

I'm also a vet. Drafted in 1968 and served two years. Trained as a radio operator, but ended up being the company clerk. Easy duty, but so what? I still served.

I met people I still remember to this day. Often wonder what happened to them.

Happy Veteran's Day to you - Crash too.

Wolynski said...

Beautiful post.

You said it like it is.