Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day - 11/11/08

Today I received an email from a life-long friend, Bill Woolum, expressing his gratitude for my military service. I appreciate the sentiment but I have to confess to being a fraud. I have accepted praise for my military career many times. I have stood proudly when introduced as a veteran. Though I am a patriotic American, my love of country is not why I served for 20 years. My motives were not pure public spirit.
In late 1971, after one year at the University of Idaho, trying unsuccessfully to balance class attendance and baseball, with partying, coed coexistence and experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs, I received a letter from President Nixon. For those of you from other countries or not old enough to remember the Selective Service System, the letter began with “Greetings, you have been selected……… I had lost my educational draft deferment when I dropped out of college. As an 18 year old, I became prime fodder for Vietnam. A lot of guys were coming back from South East Asia with fewer parts physically and mentally than they left home with. Everyone I spoke with recommended I join the Air Force as they sent their officers off to die as opposed to ground forces like the Army and Marines. So you see, I intended to join the Air Force to avoid going to war. So don’t hold a parade for me yet.

I went to the Air Force recruiter and told him I wanted in. He gave me a series of tests, which I maxed out. Before you think that is an achievement, please realize these are military tests. I suspect anyone without severe dain bramage would do well on them. As a result of my high scores I had my choice of any career field I chose to enter. They showed me lots of movies of all the technical shit the Air Force was responsible for. One film caught my attention right away. It showed technicians working on missiles. I had visions of working at NASA or one of the Air Force’s missile centers like Vandenberg AFB California or Houston Space Center. What I didn’t know is that there were many kinds of missiles that were not depicted in the film and recruits are randomly selected for a particular missile system. Since we were knee deep in a war, which type of missile tech do you think were in the most demand? Right. I trained to work on missiles that hung on the wings of fighter planes to shoot at other fighter planes and tanks and such. My job was primarily to make them pretty before they were fired at the enemy. When I became really good at cleaning and painting missiles, I was sent to the Philippines, where I deployed with aircraft to Thailand, because the Philippines is too far away from Vietnam to put me in harms way. Lucky for me that we surrendered before I was too involved. I participated in the evacuation of Vietnam, but that is the subject for another blog.
When my enlistment was up, the Air Force offered me a bunch of money to reenlist. It seemed like a bunch of money then. It was about $10,000. But I was a 22 year old with a wife and two kids and no job skills other than maintaining missiles. Not very marketable. Plus the Air Force provided housing, full medical for my family, and even a family allowance. There is no way in hell I could get out. So I stayed 20 years. I never fired a shot in anger nor had any fired at me. There are many American military heroes that deserve remembrance today. I think of Patrick Tillman, who gave up an NFL career to die for his country.

I think of the men and women who are in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places you don’t know about, serving their country. They are the true heroes. I served, and served proudly, but I am not in their league. For me it was a way to support my family.

I want to give a special thanks to the World War II veterans. There aren't many of them left. I am most grateful to them that I am not writing in German or Japanese right now as those are hard fucking languages. Thank you for saving us.

The veterans of all the bullshit wars since then deserve to be honored too. A soldier follows orders and does his job. It is never his fault what kind of peril politicians put him in. I celebrate Veteran's day every day. Any time I see a serviceman or woman in uniform, I thank them. You should too. Unless you are from France.


I felt gratitude when Bill emailed me, but also a little bit guilty. I had to set the record straight.

6 comments:

Redheels said...

I don't think you have any reason to feel guilty.
For every soldier on the front lines there must be hundreds of other soldiers behind them keeping them supplied with what they need to keep them going. I appreciate my freedom and I know the cost was great.
Thanks for sharing your story. You should be proud. You did what you needed to do for your family and your country.

Anonymous said...

Silly you Mr. Ramblings!! I have known you a fair many years by now and until this blog I hadn't seen any of these glimpses into your shrouded soul. As Redheels said, in a nutshell, support staff is necessary. Any link in a chain is just as important as any other. If one slips all can be lost. Regardless of motive for service, the strength of your link was unwavering. Be proud, anything was possible during those years you served and for whatever reason, you were spared bloodshed but the opposite could have been realized. So while different than some, your service to our country was of value to all of us just the same. Thanks Mr. Ramblings and Have a well deserved Veteren's Day. co

paisley said...

well although i really appreciate your candor,, i have to say that if guys like you are an absolute necessity... the military is 24-7-365 no matter what... and being there,, and being trained and being willing,, is as much a part of it as the active combat... where would we be if we didn't have people like you working in the wings at all times?? i shudder to imagine...

thank you rick for being there,, and being here too...

Inland Empire Girl said...

You served your country well in the military. All members of the military have always been important. I want to take time to say thanks also.

Anonymous said...

Well, well. You could have at least said, I had two kids and eventually a third or some kind of acknowledgement. Haha! We thank you for serving too! Carly

myrtle beached whale said...

Carly:

Well, at that time, you were not in the picture, but you were a major reason I stayed in for the long haul.