Monday, May 02, 2016

Miltary Days

I opened a wooden jewelry box this week that has been a fixture on my desk for 40 years. I was looking for an old pocketknife, but what I found was a piece of paper that represented a milestone in my life.

The jewelry box was a gift I bought myself in Panama in 1972. It came from a duty-free shop that smelled of sandalwood incense and cedar. The box is perfect for storing small things I want to keep but no longer use that often. A firebird necklace Jilda bought me as a birthday present in the 1980s is in there along with an old leather wallet that I didn’t want to throw away.

It was in the wallet where I last remembered seeing my DD-214, which is an official document that Uncle Sam gave me signifying I served honorably in the U.S. Army. One of the last things an Army official told me as I walked away from Fort Sumter, South Carolina was, “Hold on to this, it’s important.”

Flipping open the tired old wallet, I saw the document still tucked beneath the picture holder. It was tissue-thin and yellow from age. When I unfolded it, there were holes in the corners where the folds met. Holding it between thumb and forefinger, it looked like a crocheted handkerchief my great grandmother made.

June 1971
I moved closer to the bedroom window to get a closer look. I was in the Army from April 1971 to April 1973. Gently folding the document, I tucked it back into the slot where I’d found it and placed it back in the cedar box.

Reflecting on my time in the military, I can say without hesitation that serving was an honor, and it changed my life.

I sometimes wonder what our country would be like if the draft were still in effect. I guess if it were, both men and women would be pressed into service.

From experience I can tell you that time in the Army did me a world of good and changed my point of view. I got a chance to see other parts of the world and do things I would never have done had I not been drafted.

Many of my friends served in Southeast Asia, and they had a harder time than me, but getting drafted, when viewed from this vantage point, was a good thing for me.

My military service gave me a leg up when applying for jobs, loans and college.

But things are different now. It’s hard to know how young folks would do in the military. Most of the young people I know are tech-savvy, and the military is high-tech, so I’m betting it would be a good fit in most cases but who knows.

Having said this, I do believe that we would look at world conflicts differently if military service was compulsory. I think we would be less willing to send our troops in harm’s way if we had sons, daughters, and grandchildren in the military.

Things look different when you have skin in the game.


  1. I think we should have a draft for both men and women, and I think this would limit our wars just as you've mentioned. I registered back in the day (during the Vietnam War) but my number was 290 and that year they didn't take anyone with a number higher than 100.

  2. Great memory post! Thank you for your services. My daddy was in the Army too.

  3. I am so thankful for your service....more than words can express here in this comment section. My eyes fill with tears as I think of the sacrifices you and others made to serve our country.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart....

  4. It must be difficult to look back since you were present during the Vietnam war which was so controversial and, I feel, so very, very sad for the soldiers who fought in that war. They had to fight their own home too because of all the anti war sentiment( Jane Fonda didn't help). Since women so much want to be in the army, then they must be treated as equals in this matter as well. I don't know if the men/boys would be able to deal with the horrors of combat since so many live at home and their mom still do their laundry. They don't even know how to do basic 101 living. My dad fought in WW2 and he was shot near the end of the war. He saw many things so when the Vietnam war was on, my dad said, more than once, that if the war continued and Canada entered it, he would send my brother way up north. My dad was one of the bravest men I knew but he knew war and didn't want his son in that.

  5. Very thoughtful post Rick. .. I remember when I grew up that the US had the draft... even then I was grateful Canada didn't have it. Although I must say I'm incredibly thankful for every person who served... I have great respect xox

  6. Thoughtful post, very well said. I am proud to have worn dog tags.

    Strange how time takes the young man with fire in his heart and soul and turns him into a man "Who will never again turn the young ladies heads, nor run fast like the wind (with a 70lb pack).

  7. Thank you for your service. What a fine young man you must have been.

    You're not too shabby now, to clarify. ;-)

  8. When my son discovered he couldn't major in beer and partying down at Troy U., the U.S. Army became his own option. Today, he'll be the first to admit that was the best thing that could have happened (turning him into a man). These days he's being treated for PTSD and a previously-undiagnosed TBI ... but he says he'd serve again in a heartbeat.
    I thank him, and I thank you.

  9. I salute you and all those that served and are serving in our military. Thank you for your service. It's sad that those we love are put in harms way, but they do such a great service for our country.

  10. My hubby, also named Rick, was drafted and served in Vietnam. He was in basic in February 1970. Still has his draft letter.
    Thank you for your service.

  11. Anonymous12:04 PM

    My husband took ROTC in college & served in California (Fort Ord). We married when he became a short-termer--not enough time left in the Army to be sent to Viet Nam. We met some of our best friends while he was in the service!!

  12. Willy Dunne Wooters knew he would be drafted, so he enlisted in the Air Force. Did he go to Vietnam? No! England! Most fortunate guy in the military. I've been to The Wall many times. I always see vets and families in tears. It's heart wrenching. Two young men in X's family went to Iraq and came home a mess. I always told my son that if we had a draft, I would take him to Canada immediately. During Vietnam, I had the poster that said "What if they gave a war and nobody came?"


  13. My utmost gratitude and respect is given to all who serve to keep our country free. My feelings are mixed. I understand that a standing army is necessary for protection but I abhor war. Viet Nam left a bad taste for many of us. The soldiers were not treated well or respected by too many civilians. I know too many who did not come home alive. I know of none who came home whole in body and spirit. I saw my brothers maturing when they were in the service. At the same time they were not happy with circumstances in the places they were serving. One brother did not come home alive. It sill hurts.

  14. I'm glad your experience was good. I have got to know some people that have served and their experiences were not good. Now they are home and not the same people.


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