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?
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.
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. . .