Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. The Reluctant Veteran

 

Over the weekend, pastors and public speakers across America said, “Monday is Veterans Day…” as veterans in the crowd muttered to themselves, don’t make me stand up, don’t make me stand up. Seconds later, my priest added, “so if all the veterans could stand up — and come to the front.”

Veterans Day is a wonderful and needed celebration, but it’s odd for a lot of former servicemembers. We leap at honoring our fallen brothers and sisters on Memorial Day but blanch at seeking attention ourselves. We made it through, after all; we know many, many others weren’t so lucky.

Plenty of vets did regular jobs far from danger. The sergeant who monitored radar outside of Minot, ND, the petty officer who handled shore patrol in Crete, the guy who refueled cargo planes in Guam — these jobs are necessary but hardly heroic.

I specialized in non-heroics, operating the reactor on a sub out of Pearl. My thrilling adventures involved reading meters and twiddling knobs in the ass-end of a boat. We did our share of tracking enemy shipping in undisclosed waters, yet comparing my experience to sweaty 18-year-olds on a WW2 diesel sub skirting depth charges in the western Pacific? More than a little humbling.

Same for the Marines of Fallujah, bomber pilots over Dresden, and the hundreds of thousands of other heroes in conflicts throughout the years. When I’m asked about veterans, those are the people I think of.

In turn, the former tankie who saw action in Iraq thinks of his paratrooper buddy who didn’t make it back. Don’t remember our service, think of his.

Most vets just joined, did our jobs, then got out and did new jobs. Being honored for that is nice, but still makes a lot of us feel sheepish.

I guess I’m a hypocrite on this. Some of the other guys who stood up at the front did see action, and I was eager to hide behind them, slap their backs, and thank them for their actual service. Same as when I run into a guy wearing a Vietnam service cap at a restaurant or a young kid in uniform at the airport.

This Veterans Day, I honor all the servicemembers who did more than I did — which is damn near all of them. Your service allowed me to have a peaceful enlistment and a peaceful life ever since. Stand up, come to the front, and accept the praise due you. I’ll just hang out in the back of the boat and monitor the applause meter.

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There are 17 comments.

  1. Steve C. Member

    Maybe you’d feel differently if your experience was in the immediate post Vietnam age. When the all too common comment was, “You joined what? Why would anyone do that?”

    • #1
    • November 11, 2019, at 3:43 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  2. EJHill Podcaster

    Don’t sell yourself short, Jon. If the bell had rang you would have done your duty. 

    • #2
    • November 11, 2019, at 3:44 PM PST
    • 10 likes
  3. Full Size Tabby Member

    I understand your discomfort. But, you signed up for the possibility that you would end up at the pointy end of the stick (and I have been reading about the relatively high casualty rates among WWII submarines), so our “thank you”s also recognize that you might have been called to “reading meters and twiddling knobs in the ass-end of a boat” that might have been operating in very dangerous places. 

    My son is an officer in the Air Force, working as an engineer designing, testing, and purchasing electronic equipment. It is unlikely that he will ever be close to actual combat. But, when he signed up, he had to accept as part of the deal that he could be assigned to a role or a place that is not as safe as an office on a stateside air base. 

    • #3
    • November 11, 2019, at 3:49 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  4. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Don’t sell yourself short, Jon. If the bell had rang you would have done your duty.

    The VFW recognizes ballistic missile boat patrols, deterring nuclear war, within its range of combat veteran qualifications. 

    • #4
    • November 11, 2019, at 4:11 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  5. JamesAtkins Member

    Wait dude, you went hundreds of feet under water in a thin metal tube standing next to a radioactive pile. Sounds a lot more dangerous than the offices and clinics I stood the post. Thanks for your service.

    • #5
    • November 11, 2019, at 4:24 PM PST
    • 16 likes
  6. Instugator Thatcher

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: I specialized in non-heroics, operating the reactor on a sub out of Pearl. My thrilling adventures involved reading meters and twiddling knobs in the ass-end of a boat.

    I dunno. You saw the string touch the floor. Smelled like your compadres mixed with oil. Needed a week of airing out when you came off tour before you were fit to sleep in your bed.

    You did your part!

     

    • #6
    • November 11, 2019, at 6:05 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  7. Percival Thatcher

    Oh, pipe down. You’re going to get thanked and that’s all there is to it.

    Embrace the suck.

    • #7
    • November 11, 2019, at 6:05 PM PST
    • 13 likes
  8. Arahant Member

    JamesAtkins (View Comment):
    Wait dude, you went hundreds of feet under water in a thin metal tube standing next to a radioactive pile. Sounds a lot more dangerous than the offices and clinics I stood the post. Thanks for your service.

    Exactly.

    Thanks to all who served, even if it was in a place like Minot.

    • #8
    • November 12, 2019, at 12:15 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. Stad Thatcher

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: I specialized in non-heroics, operating the reactor on a sub out of Pearl. My thrilling adventures involved reading meters and twiddling knobs in the ass-end of a boat.

    I wouldn’t say you were never in danger. Submarines operate in an unforgiving enviroment, where unknowns or human error can put the boat in great peril:

    The first two pictures are our subs after an accident. Unlike the Kursk (last pic), they were lucky . . .

    • #9
    • November 12, 2019, at 6:43 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  10. John Peabody Member

    I totally understand the feelings behind this post. I did not parade my veteran status on Facebook. I did not wait in line for a free (limited-choice) veterans meal, while the rest of my family paid full fare. I just don’t feel it. Though I am extremely proud of my service, and performed well, it’s just not quite the same. 

    SFC, US Amy (ret)

    Army Bands

    • #10
    • November 12, 2019, at 7:33 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  11. Tex929rr Coolidge

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Maybe you’d feel differently if your experience was in the immediate post Vietnam age. When the all too common comment was, “You joined what? Why would anyone do that?”

    Oh, I so remember that. My enlisted service started in 1978 and I remember precisely those sort of questions. Then by the mid 80’s it had started to turn. The current positive attitude that most people display makes me happy for all veterans.

    • #11
    • November 12, 2019, at 7:45 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Stad Thatcher

    Oh, and for all you vets out there:

    Thank you for your service!

    • #12
    • November 12, 2019, at 9:16 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  13. Caryn Member

    Jon, I so feel this. I was an Air Force Medic. Female. We used to joke that we were “Geneva Convention Category: Target.” I went in in 1978, so I get the post Vietnam issue mentioned by a couple of others above. Morale in the Carter years was terrible. I was on active duty when the hostages were taken in Iran and we were looking around, saying, “When do we go??? They took our damned Embassy!” As I said, morale was quite low. I had planned to stay for 20 or more. I loved being a medic–best job I ever had–and loved being in the Air Force (I still get teared up at the National Anthem, especially with a fly-over), but my immediate commander was tormentor rather than mentor. In the end I took a good offer and got out honorably and early. Still mixed feelings about it and very mixed feelings about the recognition. 

    I looked into going back into service in 1991, but the war was over before the idea got very far. The Marines were actually interested in me for the officers corps. Kinda wish I’d done it…

     

    • #13
    • November 12, 2019, at 2:52 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  14. Umbra Fractus Lincoln

    Caryn (View Comment):
    “Geneva Convention Category: Target.”

    Korean linguist, Air Force. We used to semi-joke that we’d be a “target” of our flight commander lest we be captured and tortured. 

    I slept in a real bed, took semi-regular trips to Seoul purely for fun, played Dungeons and Dragons on my days off usually followed by bar crawls; many of my peers were stationed in Hawaii (I would have been, but I switched with a friend because I wanted to go to Korea.) In short, I was about as far from the front line as you can get and still be in the military. Apparently I’m not the only one who feels he doesn’t deserve the honor of being celebrated.

    • #14
    • November 13, 2019, at 5:56 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  15. Stad Thatcher

    Umbra Fractus (View Comment):

    Caryn (View Comment):
    “Geneva Convention Category: Target.”

    Korean linguist, Air Force. We used to semi-joke that we’d be a “target” of our flight commander lest we be captured and tortured.

    I slept in a real bed, took semi-regular trips to Seoul purely for fun, played Dungeons and Dragons on my days off usually followed by bar crawls; many of my peers were stationed in Hawaii (I would have been, but I switched with a friend because I wanted to go to Korea.) In short, I was about as far from the front line as you can get and still be in the military. Apparently I’m not the only one who feels he doesn’t deserve the honor of being celebrated.

    Don’t sell your service short. The point is any soldier could be called upon to go to the front lines for whatever reason. I know it’s Hollywood, but think about the scene from Saving Private Ryan when Captain Miller yanked Typewriter Boy from his gig by the beach . . .

    • #15
    • November 13, 2019, at 7:21 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. Spin Coolidge

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: yet comparing my experience to sweaty 18-year-olds on a WW2 diesel sub skirting depth charges in the western Pacific?

    I visited Arlington National Cemetery a few years ago with my family. There were a number of World War II veterans milling about awaiting the changing of the guard. My son who was probably 9 or 10 at the time went up to one guy and shook his hand and said “My grampa was in World War II.” The old timer was kind to him, and I approached, noticing that his hat showed he’d been in the Army. I shook his hand and said that I’d been in the Army as well, “but of course many years later.” He thanked me for my service. To say it caused my knees to buckle would be a bit melodramatic. But I was taken aback. Way aback. I’d never had a World War II veteran thank me for my service, nor should I ever. I mumbled some form of “Don’t thank me, I should be thanking you!” and we parted ways. It was a humbling experience.

    • #16
    • November 14, 2019, at 5:49 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  17. JimGoneWild Coolidge

    During my time in the army, an average of 1000 service members died a year through accidents. I came close once but jumped out of the way at the last moment.

    I never thought of myself as a ‘Vet’ and never even considered Veterans Day anything special for me. A friend said to me, “How can you be a veteran if you didn’t go to war?” And I agreed with him. In college, after getting out, I never talked about it because I literally had women spin of their heels and walk away from me when I told them. Vietnam had been over for 10 years! 

    I know exactly how Jon feels.

    • #17
    • November 16, 2019, at 8:39 AM PST
    • 2 likes