Saturday, May 24, 2014

Military memories and a salute to all who have served

In 1967, just a few months before my first wedding anniversary, I left for Navy boot camp.  We were deep into the Vietnam war at that time, and I expected to be drafted at any time.  Rather than wait for the letter from Uncle Sam I decided to enlist in the Navy.  Even though that mean four years of active duty instead of two, I felt that this would give me an opportunity to receive some training and perhaps see some of the world other than the jungles of Vietnam.  The Navy had a 120 day delayed program that allowed a person to enlist and wait four months before reporting.  During that 120 days I did receive my draft notice, but all I had to do was show our draft board my enlistment papers and my draft notice was cancelled.

Following boot camp I was sent to Electricians school for about six months.  My wife and I lived off base while I was in school, but after graduation I was assigned to the USS Enterprise that was currently on station off the coast of Vietnam.  That was the first of two tours I made to Vietnam on the Big E, but I also had the opportunity to see places like Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Rio, and various cities on both the East and West coasts of the US.

Unfortunately, that also meant that my wife and were separated for long stretches of time.  In one 18 month period we saw each other for three weeks.  I first saw our daughter when she was two months old.  I spent two weeks with her and did not see her again until she was ten months old.  We would have been apart even longer if it was not time for the ship to be refueled, a process that took 18 months.  When the ship left port after the refueling it was only a few months before my enlistment ended and I returned home.

Maybe it's because of Memorial Day or the fact that I'm getting older, but I've thought a lot in recent weeks about my time in the Navy.  Maybe the fact that the Enterprise made its last voyage last winter and was decommissioned has made me think a lot of my time on the ship.  I know there were a lot of things about military life I didn't like.  I proved that when I didn't re-enlist, but most of those had to do with being apart from my wife and daughter a lot.  Actually, I made rank rather quickly and turned down one promotion rather than extending my enlistment three months to have enough time to qualify.  Duty on the Big-E wasn't bad, and once you were assigned to a carrier you often returned to one when your shore duty was over.  It was not unheard of for people to be reassigned to the Enterprise numerous times after completing their shore assignments.

You make a lot of friends in the military.  Most are not people you stay in contact with after leaving the service, but they are people you never forget.  Nor do you forget some of the experiences you shared with them.  A few people you do continue to talk to like Dennis DelCotto.  He and I were shipmates almost the entire three years I spent on the ship.  When the ship was in Virginia during refueling he spent a lot of time at our house on the weekends playing with our daughter.  He got married during that time, and he and his wife remain some of our closest friends.  We don't see each other often enough, but we do enjoy some extended phone calls once in a while and make occasional contacts on social media.

I also think about my spiritual life when I was in the Navy.  I usually attended worship services on the ship and often carried a little Gideon New Testament in my work shirt pocket which I read.  But, I certainly could not claim to have lived a Christian life when I was in the Navy nor could I call myself a Christian.  Despite that, I can see now that God was calling me to him even back then.  Sometime I'll tell you about a time that I believe God spared my life on the ship.  There was an accident on the ship that caused extensive damage and took the lives of a number of sailors, and had I not chosen to take a different route that morning I would have been in the midst of the damage.  God had a purpose for my life, and even though I was not living for him at the time, he spared my life so I could fulfill that purpose.

On this Memorial Day I want to thank each one of my readers who served their country in military uniform.  Our nation has enjoyed tremendous freedoms because of the courage and commitment of brave men and women who have been willing to sacrifice their own comfort, and even their lives, to make that possible.  When I served the military was not respected by many in our nation, and I'm glad that has changed.  Not only do we salute our fellow servicemen and women, but let's not forget those families who were left behind while we served our nation.  Spouses, children, and parents pay a price as well.

Today I pray a blessing on each of you who have served our nation and the families of those who have served.  I also pray for the families of those brave men and women who lost their lives while serving.  May God bless each of you, and may God bless America.

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