It was on Memorial Day in 2002 that I started to seriously think about joining the Armed Forces. I was hanging out in New York with my friend Shannon and her sisters to celebrate the holiday with the traditional family BBQ. But Shannon, whose father is a Vietnam War Veteran, has always been very passionate about the military and veterans and she had more than just a BBQ in mind for Memorial Day.
It was Fleet Week in New York, 2002. Thirteen U.S. Navy ships and their Coast Guard entourage docked in Staten Island and opened up some of their ships for tours. The pier was packed with people and I don’t think I can put into words what I felt, seeing those ships towering above us, flanked with men in uniform. It was eight months after 9/11 and the patriotism on that pier was tangible. I could taste it in the back of my throat.
We toured a Destroyer and I asked the tour guide if I could see the female berth (sleeping quarters). Because I was already imagining myself walking around that ship in uniform and I wanted to know what my sleeping arrangements would look like. Normally, that is not part of the tour, but I guess the guide saw my interest and asked a female sailor to take me into the berthing unit. It was awesome. There is just nothing like seeing the real deal up close and personal. It was small, and if you’ve ever seen Battlestar Galactica, they’ve got the racks depicted perfectly. I was mesmerized. I could imagine myself there.
Shannon had set it up that we would each “adopt” a sailor for the day and take them around New York as a way of thanking them for their service. So we met the three sailors that we would be showing around town and off we went. We had a BBQ at Shannon’s parents’ house where her dad brought out a photo album of his time in the Army. This astounded his daughters who said they had never seen this photo album and had never heard him speak of Vietnam. He told the sailors (I wish I could remember their names) about seeing his best friends dying right there next to him during a fire fight and I swear you could have cut the silence with a butter knife.
After the BBQ we went out for drinks, on us. I talked at length with the guys about their service and confided to them that I had always secretly wanted to join the Navy. In fact, I had talked to a recruiter in high school, but when she called my house, my mom told her I only filled out the post card for the free poster! Talking to this sailor, I started to feel like maybe joining up wasn’t such a huge undertaking. He told me that if I wanted to join that he didn’t think I’d have any problem doing it. His words lingered with me for two months before I darkened the door of my local recruiting office.
I wish I could say that my time in the Navy was of some service to my country. That is what I wanted it to be. Sadly, it wasn’t. But I walked away from it with a whole lot of positives. I met some great people that I still consider my friends. I met my husband, who I was able to support from afar while he served our country fighting in Iraq. And I learned something very important about myself. I can do whatever I decide to do. The only thing that prevents me from doing something is my own mind, my own insecurities. If I want to make something happen, all I have to do is do it and not give up. That is what being an American is all about, I think. We don’t give up. We stand up for what we believe in. We do what we have to do.
Today I am thanking God my husband came home from Iraq healthy and whole. Today I am grateful for the American men and women who give up a lot of their own freedoms and comfort to serve and protect us on a daily basis while we go about our regular lives. Today I thank the men and women who have died in service to their country – in service to us.
Happy Memorial Day.