Friday, November 11, 2011

Being a Veteran on Veterans' Day

I’m a bit embarrassed by this year’s Veterans’ Day effusions – not because a lot of veterans don’t deserve recognition and support, in fact far more support than many get from our society – but because for the first time some of the effusions have been aimed at ME; people have been thanking ME for my military service. I was particularly taken aback when my son Josh posted a message on Facebook doing so.

Let me set the record straight. Yes, I’m a veteran, having served on active duty in the Navy from 1961 through 63. But…..

1. There was a draft in those days; I had the choice of joining the Navy or risking getting drafted into the Army. I was too stupid to give this much thought, but my father, thank goodness, saw what was coming in Southeast Asia and insisted that I join the Naval Reserve. When my draft notice actually came in, I was safely at sea, and my father delighted in so advising the draft board. So my “service” at sea arguably saved me from service in Viet Nam, which would quite possibly have gotten me killed, maimed, or even more messed up psychologically than I am. Incidentally, my father pressured my brother into Naval service just before the Korean war got underway, quite likely saving him from a similar fate. We both owe him (a World War II veteran) a considerable debt.

2. I served my country by helping operate a Landing Ship, Tank (LST) that hauled cargo and people – guns, tanks, trucks, bombs, Marines – around east Asia. I managed not to sink or blow up the ship when I was in positions to do so, and didn’t make too terrible a spectacle of myself on liberty in port, but that was about all I did.

3. In the course of those two years I learned a tremendous amount and spent time in some fabulous places – Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok, and many, many points between.

4. I got home in time to take part in the anti-war movement with no fear of being drafted and shipped off to ‘Nam.

5. My veteran’s status made me eligible for loan guarantees without which I wouldn’t have been able to go to college. It also got me a mortgage guarantee that allowed me to purchase a home. It gave me preferred access to jobs in the federal government. Even now, fifty years after the Navy, with some relief, gave me my discharge, I have preferred access to certain federal contracts. It’s safe to say that my military “service” made my whole career possible. For better or for worse.

This nation, in short, owes me no thanks; rather, I’m thankful for what it’s allowed me to leverage with my modicum of military service. And my respect goes to those who’ve really served, really been shot at, wounded, traumatized, and killed – whether the wars they were sent to fight made much sense or not.

Speaking of whom: it was great to see Sonny Trimble and his Veterans’ Curation Project (VCP -- --) featured on the PBS News Hour this evening. My colleagues in cultural resource management (or not) can show their gratitude to the nation’s veterans by hiring graduates of the VCP, or of the similarly motivated Veterans’ Preservation Corps (

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