When I am out in society, living my day-to-day life, no one knows I am a veteran. Unless, of course, I wear my ball cap with an F-86 on it. With the hat on, people will stop and ask me if I was a pilot. Sometimes they will thank me for my service. At every other moment, my status as a veteran is unknown. I’m sometimes asked it people treat me differently because I’m a veteran. Again, only with the hat on.
Shortly after I returned from Vietnam I was reassigned to Key West as the commander of a radar squadron stationed on the island base. One day, my family was driving to Key West in our station wagon – the four boys, my wife and myself. Passing through a small Gulf Coast town, I was pulled over by a young policeman. He asked to see my driver’s license, and when he saw my military I.D. card he asked if I was in the Air Force; I replied that I was. He then asked if I had ever run across a friend of his and he gave me the name. It so happened he was in my outfit in Vietnam and I knew him well. When I told him this, the young cop that he went bonkers. He said that guy was the best friend he had in the world and that they had grown up together. He told me that as children, they were inseparable.
I said a silent prayer thanking God for this one in a million chance to get out of a ticket – it was my lucky day! The officer went on for five or six minutes telling me all about our mutual friend and then ended up with “Gee! I’m really sorry I have to do this.” He gave me the ticket.
Life as a military vet isn’t much different from the life of an ordinary citizen. We all face difficulties in life. We drive cars, go to the grocery store, grill out during the summer months and do our best to live as well as we can. I wear my hat to remind myself of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I don’t wear it to receive special treatment.
I was raised by stepfather who was in the United States Army. As such, I’ve been around the military most of my life. Since I was old enough to think about the future, probably about nine or ten years old, I wanted to be a pilot. Going to see all of the war movies shown during World War II cemented that desire in my mind and heart.
During the movies, I was always frustrated when an enemy fighter would get on the tail of one of our planes and then see how our pilot would try and turn around to see the enemy behind him. With my mom’s help, I wrote a letter to the War Department, saying that our pilots should have rear view mirrors to see behind them. To my surprise, I received a very official looking letter back for the War Department! It thanked me for my suggestion and indicated that they would look into the issue. Pretty soon I started seeing fighters with rear view mirrors on fighter planes. I don’t know if that letter had any bearing on it, but later in my life, every time I got into a fighter that had rear view mirrors I thought about that letter.
Having grown up in the military, I knew there was no other life for me but the Military life. I think that serving ones country can be one of the more noble things a person can do. I don’t know if I would feel that way in a socialist or a communist country, but to be part of the great experiment in human history and to be part of the protection of the Republic we live in that has such a high regard for the each individual, that no other type of government has, is a marvelous feeling.
The glory and honor of a military life is only part of my decision to dedicate my life to the military. I’m sharing a little secret with you, but when I was a young man making lifetime decisions, one of my driving motivations was the desire for my stepfather to be proud of me.
The life I chose is a life I’m proud of. I left the Air Force in the 1960s for my family, but I don’t regret any of the time I spent in the service.
What drives you forward in life? How do you make your life decisions?