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Veterans Day

by: Eric B.

Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 10:55:17 AM EST

This month, I'll have been officially out of the Navy for 18 years. It was an honorable parting, although I don't have the certificate. Got lost in the mail and I was told it'd be damn near impossible to get another.

My time in the Navy was comparatiely brief. It was a mostly peaceful four years. I pulled some time in the Adriatic Sea on two occasions, including back in 1995, when the Marines carried on my ship were the theater reserves for the Army carrying out the Dayton Peace Accords. There was also the time that Greece and Turkey nearly went to war over a sheep-covered rock in the Aegean and we had to go still between the two nations while Bill Clinton told both of them -- members of NATO -- to knock it off. But, no one ever took a shot at me, and considering what some of my shipmates had to endure during the early Bush years (including the two of them who were killed), it was ripe duty.

Veterans Day to me is that one day a year when I allow myself to sit back and reflect on military service. It was brief, and in light of what others have gone through, not terribly heroic. Doing anything more seems to me trying to wrap yourself in the reflected service of others. I've got two former shipmates who have either recently retired from military service, or are in the process of doing it.

But, there were a few things about service, duty and committment that were engrained into me during those four years. In particular, I remember colors duty one night when the ships of the Atlantic fleet lowered their flags as tour boats filled with retirees snapped photos. The idea of boats filled with people who considered it so important that they'd pay good money for and plan their days around a boat ride to go out and watch a daily, ritual honoring of a symbol of our country still leaves me a little choked up.

I tell people that I learned more during my time in the Navy than I did in college. For instance, I got up early one morning and went to stand on the flight deck as the ship sailed from the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean. You read about the Pillars of Hercules in a book, but I was on a ship making the same transition that thousands of ships had made over thousands of years, going back to the Phoenecians. There was also the trip to Jerusalem, where I saw things like a way station dedicated to Elvis, a Burger King decorated with streamers celebrating the scaling of a rock wall by Israeli commandos in 1967, and the place where Jesus was allegedly crucified. Thousands of years of human history, in which the story of humanity was told in blood and sweat (as it is in so many other places that I didn't get to see), and I was engulfed by it. (This is to say nothing of the people who I served with, who ranged from people straight out of the 'hood to college educated white kids like me to the foreigners who signed up for a faster road to citizenship; one of my old shipmates held a masters degree and worked as a U.N. election observer in Thailand ... the Navy wisely gave someone of his experience and education the important job of accounting for nuts and bolts in a storage locker.)

There were, of course, good times. A friend of mine and I found and took over a bar called Muddy Water's for two days in Malta. We left one night for what I describe as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride through the streets of the city, with me in the passenger seat of a car driven by a drunken Aussie and which was built for driving on the left side of the road. Later, that deployment, we watched Mt. Aetna burst into flame during a visit to Sicily.

Today I set aside to think about this and the people who shared that time with me. I do have to admit to being a bit annoyed that everyone gets a day off tomorrow. November 11 was selected as Veterans Day for a very specific purpose. Used to be called Armistice Day to remember the horrors of World War I. I can't think of any better thing than to connect directly the value in military service with the wholesale slaughter that is modern warfare. Turning it into just another day off cheapens it.

Eric B. :: Veterans Day
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