A Dedication to Those of Us Who Served

In preparation for Memorial Day this weekend, I was thinking of writing about the 20 years that I served in the military. So, for the next 4 days, I will begin to recount my time in the service. This day will be dedicated to the days that led to my entering the service.

It was a day like any miserable day, July 1976. I was 19 years old, when my girlfriend told me she was pregnant. I was working as a “gofer” at a radio station, and in a pizza joint, making about $7.50 an hour. She didn’t work, my family didn’t like her or her family, but I told myself I loved her. I felt trapped by what we had gotten ourselves into. It was on that day that I decided to call a recruiter. I didn’t want to join just any service. My father had served in the Air Force for about 20 years then, and he really wasn’t happy about the service — in fact, he hated it. Dad hated the “head” games that he felt were constantly played with him. He despised the hours that he worked, and the politics in his squadron. So, the Air Force was out for me…besides, I didn’t think I could pass the examinations required for the Air Force. I didn’t want to go into the Army — too much of a chance that I would find myself on the front lines in some jungle. The Marines was out too, no way would I keep my head shaved, and bark like a dog. The Navy…yes, the Navy was it for me. Every time I had seen a sailor, they always seemed to be relaxed. They had a suave, “kick-back” attitude that I liked. Sailors traveled all over the place, and they held a kind of worldly swagger worthy of Popeye. So, I called the recruiting office for the Department of the Navy.

John Sutton was a good guy. He’d been a Radioman in the service for the past 15 years. He had a beard, and a hearty laugh. Better than the sour faces I saw in the Marine recruiting station next door. His assistant was the same way. I knew that this was the service for me. So, I took the ASVAB test, and waited a week for the results. In the meantime, I told my parents about my decision. They weren’t happy at first, Mom telling me that I was going to get myself killed someplace and Dad telling me that I should have told him first. Mom wanted me to join the Air Force like my father, but I could tell he was relieved. Dad and I never really got along together during my entire childhood. He had told me I would never amount to anything, that I was worthless because I skipped classes in school. Yet, I always seemed to come out smelling like a rose (well sort of). I was a straight “B” student, and to this day, I still don’t know how I managed that trick. I remember cutting class, only to sit out in the commons area, playing blackjack all day. Either that or I was ditching school to walk 3 miles to a shopping mall, spending my time until I was ready to go home. I would only attend class to take tests, and ace them.

My ASVAB scores were high, except for Math, which was mediocre. I could pretty much write my own ticket — I could get whatever I wanted. I wanted to get into radio, I’d been training to be a journalist/disc jockey during my time in high school, and the Navy had a rating called JO (Journalist). That was my ticket. But…there was one catch. I could get the rating, get the school in a year. I would have to be swabbing decks in the meantime, cleaning toilets, showers, serving people food, until I got my school. But, I could be an Operations Specialist. They handled the radar on the ships, controlled jets, even talked on the radio. John told me it was a sea-going rating, that I would be out to sea, but could make a lot of extra money by being on a ship. A Journalist would not get that kind of opportunity. Out of desperation, I took the Operations Specialist position, because I would get a guaranteed school, something I needed at the time, with my future wife and child to think of.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of activity that left my brain struggling to keep up. By August, I had entered the Military Entrance Program and after being poked and prodded, was told that I would not be accepted into the military because I had flat feet, and had recently undergone surgery for a thyroid goiter that meant I would need to take medication. I was devastated, that after all the trouble I had gone to in order to get into the military, I was medically not going to be accepted. My father was with me in the MEPS office, and asked to talk to the medical officer. To this day, I don’t know what he said, but suddenly, my authorization was stamped that I was fit to go into the military. Wow, Dad had come through for me. I left for boot camp in San Diego 3 days later.

More to come…

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