March 9, 1973 I put on my dress blues, boarded an Allegany Airlines jet in Buffalo and took a quick flight to Newark Airport. I had a seabag in one hand and my military orders in the other. Keeping my white hat on, toting a seabag and carrying those orders and my personnel file proved to be too much and in the process I left my file on a park a bench at the transit stop in Newark. When I got to the port authority terminal in New York City I realized I didn’t have my the envelope with my orders and files in it. I was frightened but did what I’d been told.
I contacted the port authority police who said, “leave your seabag here son, someone has turned in your orders to us in Newark Airport.” I made the trip back to Newark retrieved the orders and then back to Manhattan and the port authority near Penn Station. The next leg of my journey was to board a subway and get to the Brooklyn Naval Support Activity. I was a 20 year old kid on my own for the first time in New York City. The port authority police pointed me in the right direction. I got on the subway but wasn’t sure how to get Brooklyn and my stop. It was my good fortune to be on the same subway train as a young Hispanic girl who asked if she could help. I told her where I was going and she guided me to the correct stop. She told me to get off the train, go to the top of the stairs and turn right. If memory serves me correctly I was exactly across the street from the Naval Support Activity.
There isn’t a year goes by that I remember her and the kindness she extended helping this greenhorn Navy guy get to the right place.
Lots of thoughts today. I got up this morning to bone chilling cold. Our home is warm, but it was -9 degrees fahrenheit outside. I thank God that we have heat and a well insulated home. Our daughter is home this weekend. She and I headed to the gym earlier for a good workout. I got in 40 minutes on the eliptical machine and Dara varied her workout among eliptical, weights and a stationary bicycle.
As we headed to the gym I let Dara know that 34 years ago I put on my dress blues and headed to work at the Naval Hospital in New London, Connecticut and reported to the officer of the day who signed my orders to leave. That was my last day of active duty. I was happy to be going home. Now, all this time later I’d like one more day with or at least a few hours with those men and women with whom I served. I’d like to say thank you again and catch up a bit. The perspective at 56 years of age is different than it was at 22.
I’ve been relaxing on the couch next to our pellet stove most of the rest of the day. I had some rice krispies with milk and honey which is my favorite breakfast. I’ve been watching C-Span, CNN and MSNBC most of the day to see President-elect Obama, Vice-President-elect Joe Biden and their wives touch the lives of millions of Americans with their train ride from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. There is quite a contrast from four and even eight years ago. Obama isn’t God and he’s got his work cut out for him but people everywhere along that route and in much of our country and around the world are excited too. I’ve been thinking about my nephew Tom who is a sailor serving in the United States Navy Ceremonial Guard in DC. Tom’s going to be marching with our new president on Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday. I wish I could be there. I’m so proud of Tom and wish I could be there in person to see him. Many times today I’ve been moved to tears as I watched the President-elect’s train and listened to he and other speak along the way.
My brother Brian and his friend Lillian will be in Washington for the inaugural too. Lillian stood on the mall with Dr. King in 1963 as a teenager. How special for her to return now to see a member of her race inaugurated. I’ve been thinking too of Dr. King himself and what he would have thought of all of this. Today is a day that makes me proud to be an American. It’s one of those signature days. I’m grateful to be an American and a veteran of the United States Navy. I salute my countrymen, our President and Vice-President Elect, their families and the millions of soldiers, sailors, marines and coast guardsman who serve us. God bless America and may America bless God again.
This is a day and a season of thanksgiving and this year I’m most thankful for all that has happened. This has been a watershed year of memories and a chance to reconnect with people and memories from the past. Just yesterday I received a note from a surgeon who was once my boss at the Naval Submarine Medical Center in New London, CT. A few weeks ago I decided to write this man whom I had last seen on January 17, 1975. Dr. Biesecker was Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Medical Corps when I last saw him. I always called him sir, or Dr. Biesecker and all these years later when I decided to write a letter that’s how I addressed him. I thanked him for his influence on my life both then and now. A week ago I received an email from another former Navy medical officer, Dr. Copeland, with whom I served. I’m thankful to my nephew Tom Watkins who joined the U.S. Navy in January of this year, because it was Tom who helped rekindle this spirit within me.
When I left active duty in 1975 and the active reserves in 1977 I rarely looked back at my naval service. I was proud of it, but I got on with life. Other than a three semesters on the GI Bill I really never took advantage of the benefits veterans are due. Perhaps it was pride, but I never looked for a handout. I never joined the American Legion. I kept my uniform and mementos of my service, but I kept a low profile. About ten years ago at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner the speaker, Clebe McClary, invited those of us who were veterans to stand. It was really the first public recognition of my military service that had ever occurred. That was the beginning of a journey that continues to this day. Tom’s enlistment made the fire burn a bit more brightly. If it hadn’t been for Tom I don’t think I’d have gone to Albany, GA this year. If it hadn’t been for Tom I’d never have gone to Great Lakes Naval Training Center again. Because of Tom I relived a very special chapter of my life again. I tried to live that experience more mindfully this time.
I called Tom today to thank him for his service to our country and to tell him that I loved him and I’m damned proud of all that he’s done. I hope those of you who read what I have written will take the time to thank a member of the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines or Coast Guard. If you meet a veteran, thank them for their service. I pray daily for an end to war and I try to be an instrument of peace knowing well that there are war torn areas of our world that cry out for help.
I read this morning on one of the alternative news sites about a 60 year old man who is walking to Washington, D.C. to encourage Nancy Pelosi to put impeachment back on the table. He’s a professor and U.S. Air Force veteran. These used to be impeccable credentials until recently when the such people are routinely trivialized and ridiculed. Being a veteran used to mean that you had a star next to your name. Don’t you think its tragic that this man’s journey isn’t being covered in the MSM media. I’m calling on bloggers to bring this story to the web. I don’t give a damn about the Iowa caucus. I’ve heard enough of that foolishness. That’s just another distraction. This guy deserves the attention Iowa is getting.
Read his letter to Speaker Pelosi here.