Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

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Memorial Day

Marines like to say that there's no such thing as a "former Marine." Retired, maybe, out of the service, maybe, but being in the Marines -- and, really, being in the military -- can be such a fundamental re-set of your perspective that you keep that newer perspective. You're you, but in revised form. Ready-to-serve form. Service is a fundamental (there's that word again) part of your job, your life.

It is possible to be a former Navy Brat. That's me. That's the closest I ever got to serving. My dad served; so did his dad, my Grandpa Irv, who first was stationed in the Aleutians during World War II in case Japanese forces tried attacking the American West en masse, then was sent to Europe post-V.E. Day to help with, essentially, clean-up.

I didn't serve. I was at a remove: living and learning while Dad was thousands of miles away. I still wound up on bases, occasionally on ships -- still one of the coolest things I've yet experienced was a three-day Tiger Cruise (like the one described here), riding the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John F. Kennedy from Portland, Maine to Norfolk, Viriginia in September 1987 -- and I'd help Mom out on shopping runs to commisaries with the paper bags labeled "Navy Wife -- It's the Toughest Job in the Navy," but that doesn't count as serving. I was a snot-nosed kid, though I hope a well-meaning one*. I remember saluting a guard while we stopped at a gate (probably at Miramar, when it was still a Navy base) and Dad saying that my doing that could be considered rude, so try not to do that. Dad's very much of the "let them figure it out for themselves" school of teaching: I think he meant that it was best to mean it when you salute. And to do the salute correctly, which I probably still don't do. (I didn't figure out why it's also considered presumptuous to come up with your own call sign, the Navy equivalent of a nickname, until I saw Sean "formerly Puff Daddy" Combs concocting nicknames as the spirit moved him. But I digress.)

What could have led to me serving? I didn't feel a draw towards the military. Dad, to his credit, didn't force on me the idea that my brother and I should serve, but I did what I could to learn to respect everyone who does serve. Dad does; he's always been impressed with the young people in the Navy, 18- and 19-year-olds who can be trusted to move around multi-million-dollar airplanes on pitching aircraft carrier decks and almost literally throw them off the front of those ships. Recoveries? That's basically throwing a plane at a ship. AND THEY LEARN HOW TO DO ALL THAT SAFELY. Because they can, and because they have to. It's a huge job. It takes a few thousand people to run an aircraft carrier. No one is superfluous. (I keep going back to aircraft carriers because, again, that's where Dad served a lot. Had he been in helicopters or subs or solely on shore duty, I'd know more about that.) Had I joined, I don't know how well I would have served. Could the military have shaped me into an effective soldier? I'll never know. I don't have to know, except maybe in some alternate reality. In a way, I'm lucky: plenty of men and women (including my online friend stagger_lee77, who's thankfully still around) have served, enough of them that I (and a lot of us) don't have to.

They do this so we don't have to.

In Israel, with some exceptions, it's mandatory for all Israeli citizens over age 18 to serve, whether for two or three years, in the Israel Defense Forces. The need to serve is even more pressing in Israel's unique situation, a situation I'm not qualified to describe or critique. Long story short, they have to, at least for those two to three years. It becomes a fact of life.

Even a former military brat like me can forget that. Memorial Day is one of the ways we try not to.

To those who have become part of the military -- any branch, any time, past, present and future -- and have been willing to be away from your family for months at a time, do work that's classified that you can't talk about, eat MREs when that's the only food available, be there both for fellow soldiers and for civilians when crises hit (whether it's a firefight in a Afghanistan market or the 9/11 attack on New York and Washington), use your training the right way at the right time to stop a crisis or save a person:

Thank you.

* Completely non-military-related, but I like this line from my former editor Lukas Kendall at Film Score Monthly: "When I was 12 to 16, I didn't know shit, because I was 12 to 16."

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