At 0730 last Friday morning I found myself riding with my brother and his family through the Illinois Street Gate at United States Navy Recruit Training Command. That morning was filled with excitement for all on board. It was homecoming for one old sailor returning to a place where I too had once served. Once we got thoroughly checked by the U.S. Navy Police we were allowed to walk from our car to the MCPON building which was our portal to the drill hall where my nephew and 967 of his shipmates would pass in review. My brother Mark, was out in front leading the way. Like any father he was more than anxious see his son again. I walked between my sister-in-law Terry and their two children. It was a sunny day with a bright blue sky. Much has changed at Recruit Training Command since my time there. Only one of the buildings from the 1972 era is still there, but the pavements were the same. As I walked, emotion welled to the surface. No one noticed but my eyes were filling with tears. I could feel them trickle down my cheek. Tom was passing in review today but I was home again in a place that didn’t seem like home in 1972. The ghosts of thousands of sailors were with us as we walked and I was aware of them. We crossed the street and moved toward the drill hall where Tom would graduate.
My eyes were drier now and all around me were petty officers shepherding our every movement. I felt at home and as one who had been on a long journey. On my way into the drill hall I passed a 1st Class Hospital Corpman. I forgot she wasn’t supposed to talk me and I blurted out, “I was a 3rd Class Corpsman.” We reached our seats and were to have a wonderful experience watching these young men and women pass in review. After the ceremony as I shopped once more in the Navy Exchange for souvenirs to bring back to my family I spotted a quote from John F. Kennedy. I’d never seen it before but it is one that I will not forget.
I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: “I served in the United States Navy”-John F. Kennedy
Before the day was over and as we waited for my nephew to check in with the Transient Holding Unit I fell asleep under a tree next to the drill field I had graduated from in 1972. I was filled with an abiding sense of peace and I slept fitfully there under that tree. It’s a memory that will be with me for a long time.