Last weekend Gail and I were in Buffalo, actually Kenmore, our hometown and a suburb. Whenever we’re there, we always visit our parents graves and this time as we were leaving the gravesites of Gail’s parents, Charlie and Betty, some people nearby were getting out of their cars. As we said our goodbyes, the group began walking up the cemetery hill in our direction. As they neared us, one of the people, a man about 45, said to me, “Thanks for your service to our country”. Somewhat surprised, I replied, “Thank you!” When we got to our car I said to Gail, “How did that guy know I was in the military?” And then I realized that I was wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with the American Flag and the words “USS George Washington” on it.
It was the cap sent to me by Dave Lausman, the Commanding Officer of the US Navy Nuclear Aircraft Carrier “George Washington”.
I came to know Dave and his wife Carol when they called me on the air one morning from Japan where Dave was stationed - about to take command of the “George Washington”. It turns out that they listened to my radio show every evening (there is a 13 hour time difference between here and there) on the internet, and eventually came into our radio studio when they were back home in Detroit on leave. During those visits, they would bring gifts for the morning crew including my cap, which I wear proudly and often!
There are 23 million men and women alive today who have served in the United States Armed Forces and yes, I am one of them. Only I was in the Army not the Navy. Which brings me to a few of the highlights of my military experience… I warn you this will not be the most exciting reading!
After four years in the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) at Syracuse University, I was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the US Army upon graduation. I was stationed at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey for six months where all the action for me took place… Well actually the action really took place at nearby Ft. Dix where I had a couple days of basic infantry training. (I had many weeks of prior infantry training at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina while I was in the ROTC) Now comes the exciting part.
We were on the hand grenade range and the guy next to me, due to an apparent lack of throwing ability (he definetely wouldn’t have been the quarterback on his high school football team) threw his “live” hand grenade - but not very far. It landed about seven or eight feet from the place where I was standing. The Sgt. yelled, “Hit the deck!” and I did. The ground shook a lot, but luckily no one was injured.
The other memorable experience took place later that night when my platoon was crawling on our bellies through barbed wire while 50 caliber bullets were being fired right over our heads. Every 5th bullet was a tracer, and while it was a bit scary it was also oddly beautiful against the black sky.
That experience gave me an incredible appreciation for our soldiers when those 50 caliber bullets are being fired at them - not over their heads in a training exercise.
Well that was it and… oh, I forget one thing. As I was crawling through the barbed wire my rifle slipped and one of the razor-sharp barbs struck me and I suffered a scratch on my right cheek. When I got back to Ft. Monmouth later that night, Gail noticed the scratch. I recalled to her the harrowing details of how I had been wounded. Instead of receiving the Purple Heart, I got a spritz of Bactine and a band-aid. So much for the returning hero!
And that was pretty much it; the rest of my military experience was spent serving in the Army Reserves for the next seven and a half years. I left the army a Captain and on this Veterans Day Weekend I give thanks that I was one of the lucky ones who never had to go to war.
I am even more thankful for the brave men and women who have, and continue to, put their lives on the line to ensure that the rest of us remain safe and free.