Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reflections on Veterans' Day…


I have had an uneasy relationship with Veterans' Day my entire adult life. Although I gave 20 years to the service of my country in the Navy Seabees, the label of Veteran is not one I wear without some discomfort. Indeed, due to injuries to my knees while on active duty, I could also correctly be called a disabled veteran, a moniker with which I am even more uncomfortable.

It is not that I am ashamed or embarrassed of my service. The exact opposite is true. I had, by nearly any measure, a successful and rewarding career. A Chief Petty Officer in 8 years, a Master Chief in 17, and half of my career spent in a specialized program supplying utilities to naval facilities worldwide.

And yet.

And yet, my internal pictures of Veterans are, for example, the grizzled survivors of World War II, a group whose numbers are significantly decreasing daily, and of which my father is a part. Those who saw things which should not be seen, and did things you shouldn’t have to do. And when they came home, they locked it all away and went on with their lives as if it never happened. Recent works recognizing “The Greatest Generation” have provided the children of those men (and women) with amazing stories of both horror and heroism they had never heard before.

Or perhaps those who served in Korea, the ‘forgotten’ war. Or those who served in Vietnam. Vietnam Veterans, in particular, were treated shabbily by the country they served admirably when they returned. Many of them still wear the scars of that conflict, whether visible or not.

More recently, we have those who served in the first Gulf War, and those who serve as I type.

Those are the men and women I think of when I hear the word Veteran. To be included in their number seems almost a sham. Did I do some dangerous things during my service? Certainly. But nothing that compares to what millions of others have done, sacrifices paid with body parts, damaged psyches, and all too often the ultimate sacrifice for a sometimes ungrateful nation.

I have many fond memories of my service with the Seabees. There was the Christmas I spent at the Mare Island Shipyard with Barney Baker and others as we provided emergency power to the base after the failure of a transmission tower. The day Lynn and Joe Maynard pinned Chief Anchors to my collar for the first time. The 7 months in Haiti, building a 5.5 mile road around Port-au-Prince, and my crew who delighted in giving their meager off time to rebuilding local schools and orphanages, as Seabees are want to do. The three years Lynn, I, and the kids spent in the Philippines, surviving five typhoons, an earthquake, two coup attempts, and finally, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

And the month spent in Homestead after Hurricane Andrew. We were part of a small Seabee Unit at the Mayport Naval Station in 1992 when Andrew devastated south Florida. The next day, the Commanding Officer of Naval Station Mayport called and said simply, “Go south. Help people.” Best set of orders I ever received. And we went; clearing roads, providing temporary roof repairs, distributing food and healthcare, repairing electrical systems.

All good stuff of which I am very proud, but which seems deficient when compared to the acts of others. And so, on this Veterans' Day, I hope all Americans will honor those who have to ably served their country. And a day I will wear the label of Veteran proudly, but humbly.

Blessings to all of you,

jim