An Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Korea, and Vietnam Vet

United States has many places for retired folks to stroll out their golden years in peace. Presumably, these neighborhoods are cheaper, with available services nearby. If you are retired military, especially Navy or Marine Corps, many of you’all don’t leave San Diego or the Norfolk area.

In my gym this morning, I had three conversations with retired vets. One was a Surface Supply Corps guy who taught at the local high school. He felt embarrassed because even though he had retired many years ago, he asked me if I was in the Marines or the Navy. I smiled and said, Navy, and took it as a compliment. Maybe you Leathernecks might be insulted. Nothing I can do. Blame the Supply Corps and their weak uniform recognition.

The second was a quiet, elderly man. He had been stationed at the ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) base over in Point Loma. You know of it? he asked.

Yes sir, my dentist is over there, I said before leaving him and the locker-room.

And the third veteran was one I had chatted with a couple of times in the past. He looks about 65 years old. Except, he fought in World War II, after enlisting at age 16 in the Marine Corps. I’m 86, he had told me once.

I see him working out on one of the machines as I head toward the door.

Hey sir, save some weights for us, you can’t lift ‘em all!

He laughs. Keeping my weight. I was 123 pounds when I joined up. Not anymore. My rifle and bayonet were way over my head when held to my boot.

Marine Corps, are you not the Department of the Navy? I ask with a wicked grin.

He shoots me a look of miscomprehension, before boxing my arm. I guess so.

How long did you stay in the Marine Corps?

Three wars, he replies. (Not, I retired. Not, I did my hitch. Not, I did twenty years. But, three wars.) World War II, in the Pacific, I was shot twice. Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. Korea, and of course, Vietnam.

I look at my watch. I am late for work, I had lifted weights after cardio. Still, I listen as he continues.  You hear all these guys saying they have PTSD? I had it. We all did. You better not creep up behind me. It’s all part of war. 

How was coming back home?

Different in each one. They offered me a slot at OCS when I was in Korea. I was a Staff Sergeant then. I could sign on as an officer, but I would have returned to Korea.

You still can, we need you!

He laughs. Me and this other guy both got talked to. He took it, and retired a Major. I passed and retired a Sergeant Major. I’m just a guy. A Sergeant. I didn’t have no education. I was happy.

You miss it?

Yes I do.

How was Vietnam?

What you read and what you hear are nothing close to what happened. You know Tet?

Sure.

I was there. Our first day was rough. But after that, we kicked the dog-crap out of the VC. Sixty, Seventy thousand dead. Or more. There was none left for us to fight.

I have always thought you all deserved better when you returned.

Yeah. Maybe. I never got called nothing. No baby-killer. None of that. Maybe it was my look. I would’ve beat the pis out of anyone that did.

Sir, I say. I got to run to work. Thanks for chatting.

He shakes my hand and off I push through the doors out into a San Diego morning. I am late. But it was worth it. I don’t get to speak to heroes like that every day.

Oddly, enlisted Sailor, Marine, Soldier, or Airman is listed as the third-worst job by CareerCast.com to hold. In my eyes, most polls, lists, and surveys reflect bias:

In their annual career survey, an online job bank ranked one of the nation’s toughest, proudest and most critical occupations as the third-worst job to have: sailor.

Sailors stand at attention while manning the rails on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) as the ship pulls out of Naval Station Everett, Wash.

In fact, the CareerCast.com survey didn’t appear to appear to distinguish between the services; the category was named “enlisted military soldier,” but the photo accompanying it features four models in Navy uniforms (BDUs, crackerjacks, flight suit and summer whites). Only lumberjack (first place) and dairy farmer (runner-up) edged out enlisted as the worst-of-the-worst. (To be sure, newspaper reporter was not far behind at fifth-worst.)

To any young man or woman considering enlisting, I can tell you that joining the military is the challenge and time of your life. You can take my word for it or I can introduce you to an old Sergeant Major, the kind of man maybe we don’t raise anymore in this country. He’ll tell you, he wants back in. . .

35 thoughts on “An Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Korea, and Vietnam Vet

  1. You make me proud to have been in the service, Navy One…thanks for that reminder…k

  2. Once, in line in front of me a man said, “I shouldn’t be here. I was in three invasions.” “Excuse me”, I said. “Would that be North Africa, Sicily and Normandy?” “Yes”, he said. “At Normandy, what beach?” “Omaha”, he said. “What wave?”. …”The first wave”. We stand on the shoulders of these people, and by God, let us not forget it!

  3. Last year we had my ship’s reunion in Waterloo, IA, and we arrived on the next to last day of The Iowa Marines of Iwo Jima. There were only nine left and this was their last reunion because of their age and health. Their last night was a closed door to only them and their family. I would love to have been a fly on the wall that night. But I did get to talk to a couple of them, and they are just quiet, humble men, but I felt honored just shaking their hands. A breed apart! And the Marines I worked with admitted they were a department of the Navy…the Men’s Department.

  4. I talk to the “old” vets whenever I can. I only got to meet my uncle’s father in law once- he was in the 10th Mountain and fought in Italy in WWII. Our first and only meeting I sat down with him for 3 hours and we told war stories. His were better than mine, so I just listened. He was still funny as hell.

  5. Kris: I am proud to serve with (after) you all!
    Kerry: You bet. We stand on their broad shoulders.
    CP: That must have been an amazing night.
    CI: Yet another talk I would have loved to hear.
    Old NFO: No kidding. Worst job, never. . .

  6. I am still humbled by men like him…even though I served toward the end of Vietnam, 16 years of the Cold War, Gulf War I and Gulf War II…men like him are my heroes!!!

  7. Hello Navy.
    This piece reminds of a conversation I had while waiting for a lunch date with one of the Rangers who climbed up the cliffs at the Pont Du Hoc on D-Day.

    I’ve never forgotten it.

    Well done.

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  12. Want back in? I even looked in to it after seeing that 47 year old Marine on patrol in Afghanistan. Is my body up to it? Probably not, too many miles. But is my spirit up for it, hell yeah. I still THINK I could do that.
    Loved this post. Thanks.

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  14. This is a great post! It reminded me my own Father, also a Marine. He served in WWII ans wounded on Okinawa. Then he served in Korea. He was on a boat headed for war during the Cuban Missle Crisis. He retired before he was sent to Vietnam, but he was DI to many that fought there. Sempervivum Fi. Thanks to ALL service men and women… past, present, and future.

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  21. More posts like this, NavyOne.

    I was in Costco a couple of years ago and saw an oldster wearing a ball cap in one of those battery-operated scooters. After passing him, not paying too much attention, things began to dawn on me. A big ‘1’ in a diamond with the Southern Cross behind it. 1st Marine Division. Holy crap! I got chills.

    I caught my breath, and doubled back. “That’s a hell of a patch on your cap!” “It was a hell of a bunch of guys!” “Yes sir, they were.”

    He was wounded on Peleliu but recovered enough to fight again on Okinawa.

    Where do we get such men?

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