It’s nice to have a column on Veterans Day – and the more so the older I get.
I seldom thought about my military service after I left. I had a pretty cushy MO (military occupation) as a flight safety inspector in the Marine Corps Air Wing. It was a far cry from John Wayne’s Marine Corps and hardly worth mentioning.
Later, after my discharge, as I watched so many thousands of young men like myself fight and die in a horrible war in Vietnam, my own peacetime service (1958-62) seemed to pale in significance.
I hated the war and the good American lives it was taking. I never demonstrated, but my opposition generally pushed my own service further into the background.
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My Marine Corps war stories never got far beyond a bar fight in San Diego or a rumble in a Jacksonville jungle. Who cared?
As I’ve grown older I’ve slowly changed my view about my military service.
So many Americans did not serve, for whatever reason. In my own high school graduation class, most of my closest friends went on to college while I went off to recruit training.
While I was mustering out, four years later, they were graduating with college degrees and starting their careers. I was four years behind and wondering if I did the right thing.
These days, I know I did and the older I get the more I point to my four years as a Marine with pride.
I never carried a weapon, never fought an enemy. But as I pored over some memorabilia recently I came across two long-forgotten certificates.
Parachutes that I had inspected and packed had saved two Marine pilots forced to eject somewhere over Japan.
The certificates honored me for saving their lives, with the names of the pilots and the dates.
I had put them away decades ago and promptly forgot about them, but now they are worth so much more than the fifth of bourbon the two pilots gave me, as per tradition.
The thing about Veterans Day is that it is, by proclamation, a day to honor all veterans from wartime and peacetime.
It began as Armistice Day, honoring those who fought in World War I, and was first celebrated a year after the armistice was signed between German and Allied nations on Nov. 11, 1918 (the 11th hour, the 11th day, the 11th month).
In 1954, it was renamed Veterans Day, to include World War II veterans.
Today, Veterans Day honors all veterans and differs from Memorial Day, which honors those who died in the service of their country.
I need to mention, as a former Marine, that this weekend has a two-fold significance for some of us.
Friday, Nov. 10, was the 242nd birthday of the Marine Corps and there is not a prouder day in the lives of Marines, past and present.
We all celebrated the day while in the Corps (even during recruit training in my case) and I have regularly reminded my bride of the everlasting importance of Nov. 10. It’s a Marine thing.
Semper Fi, y’all.
Contact Bob Bestler at firstname.lastname@example.org.