Occasions like Memorial Day bring up a lot of memories, good and bad. I’m sure it’s similar for most veterans. I learned a lot of valuable lessons and skills, met a lot of amazing people, it’s absolutely played a huge role in shaping my life, but even if you don’t fight on the front lines sacrifices are still made. Overall, I did four deployments, two on Aircraft Carriers. Sea deployments are no joke, neither is working the flight deck.
I used to tell the noobs that the day they weren’t scared up there was the day it’d kill them.
Coming back from my second deployment, I was on the hangar deck of the Carrier with the rest of my squadron, waiting to hit port in San Diego where we’d be flown back home. I must have looked despondent because one of our Warrant Officers came over and started talking to me. He asked why I looked upset and I told him that it was my daughter’s first birthday. Some might not think much of that, it’s not like she’d remember but it was the principle of thing. She was turning one and I’d spent half that year deployed, I missed a lot, the birthday was the icing on the proverbial cake. The officer chuckled at my expression and said we all made the same trade off, time with family for giving them a brighter future. He talked about how he was paying his daughter’s way through college because of his job and the decisions he’d made. I thought about that but his justification came up short. My parents might not have paid for my school, or fancy cars, or nice things, but they were always there. I might not have had expensive gifts but they were both there for every birthday, graduation, and holiday. I felt like a failure as a parent, which in my opinion is the most important job in the world.
I’ve lost track of how many events I missed while I was deployed or stationed too far away. My sister’s marriages, the only family reunion ever, countless holidays and birthdays. Milestones in my daughter’s life that only come around once. I went fourteen years without seeing one sister because the logistics were too difficult. I had four nephews and nieces that I’d never met until last year.
Every service member makes sacrifices, some are faced with the ultimate sacrifice, those are the ones to think about today.
The Navy might be as dangerous as being boots on the ground but it wasn’t without it’s hazards. On my first deployment I had a serious wake up call. I went down to the hangar deck and saw an area that was cordoned off almost like a crime scene. There was a dried red section in the center that looked a lot like blood. I asked around and found out that a few hours earlier a young man had been driving a heavy tractor, his guide wasn’t paying attention and the driver ended up being pinned between the vehicle and one of our airplanes. Two multi-ton metal machines, flesh and bone pressed between. There was nothing anyone could do, he was crushed to death. As tidbits of info floated around the ship that day the depth of the tragedy sank in. He had been 23 years old, recently married, and had a baby on the way. I was 23 years old, married, and had a baby on the way.
When they flew his body off the ship we lined the deck, bow to stern, as honor guard. A flag draped coffin was carried out to the waiting aircraft and loaded. What a cold comfort is a flag to a young window and a child that will grow up never knowing its father. That wasn’t the only time I performed that duty, but I never took it lightly. That was one of our brothers and honoring them in that way was a privilege.
A few years ago I read a story about how Marines show their respect. I wish I could find it but it was for some obscure military site. When a Marine is killed in battle his brothers never leave his side until he’s back home in the hands of loved ones. Their bodies would be loaded in coffins and a Marine would stay with it the entire way home, making sure someone is always there. Some talk to them, sing to them, read to them, and just make sure that they’re never left alone. That’s just amazing, that level of dedication and respect and sense of family.
Those are the things I think about on days like today.