Personal meaning

Veterans Day has personal significance

Veterans Day 1981.

I was only seven weeks away from entering Marine Corps training camp – and I wish it had been seven.

For some intuitive reason – which I still don’t fully understand – at age 25, I enlisted in the Marines.

One day in the summer of 1981, I walked into the local military recruiting office in Ogden, Utah, to check on supplies.

Something inside troubled me. I considered myself a patriot, but I hadn’t really sacrificed much for this belief.

I never intended to uproot my whole life back then – not at 25, not with less than a year to get my bachelor’s degree, not with a good job and my car almost paid off.

I had already devoted two years of my life to an ecclesial mission in Italy. And, I had had two major knee surgeries, one of them in an Italian hospital.

But, the more I thought about it, that same thing inside of me went from a candle to a fire that I couldn’t put out.

So in August 1981, I signed up for four years of active service with the Marines – but gave myself about four months behind in order to complete a quarter more of college.

Veterans Day 2021.

It’s been 40 years.

In some ways, the nerves, desires and outlook of youth are the same today as they were then.

But, four decades of life and wear and tear cannot be swept away.

I was the second oldest in my training camp squad in San Diego.

The older guy washed early because of the physical toll, especially the distance traveled.

I had been wise enough to spend the months leading up to training camp developing a personal running regimen. The results got me through an otherwise grueling 12 weeks in San Diego.

For the first six weeks, the drilling instructors treated me like nuclear waste. I was the wrong age. I was overweight. I was unabashedly religious. I was close to a university degree. I was a guaranteed PFC. I was just a sweet, shy, scared person.

But, I refused to be buried.

Eventually, to their surprise – and mine too – it became clear that I wasn’t going to give up.

Then they lightened up, appointed me platoon secretary and conceded that I had made the rank – barely, but I had.

On our last fitness test, I maxed Abs (80) and 5K (6:00 PM) to get past the last hurdle.

Then it’s off to the regular Marine Corps.

Forty years ago.

I still remember all the names or faces and personalities of all the guys and girls I worked with in my shop.

They were all an exceptional group of young people, some of the best America has produced in this generation.

Many of them were loving, loyal, intelligent, strong, and reliable fathers or mothers.

Of course, they weren’t perfect, some less perfect than others. Still, I knew we all supported each other.

I felt and feel a privilege to have associated with them and to know them.

But, 40 years ago.

I often wondered what they had been doing with the rest of their lives. I hoped for the best for them all: happy families, successful careers and fulfilling lives.

For me, four years in the Marines ended up being more than a detour in life. It ended up being a stepping stone to the future and a feeling that, for all my faults, I was one of them.

You can’t beat that.