The veterans in my life

I am not a veteran, but some people think I am.

I am partial to baseball caps and have dozens of them, representing places I have been (Alaska, Guam, Normandy), my schools (Temple, St. Joe), sports (Eagles, Phillies), and the military (U.S. Army, USS New Jersey BB-62, USS Slater DE-766).

It’s the last two I want to talk about.

The USS New Jersey cap I bought when I toured that grand lady parked in the Delaware, guarding her namesake state. Lots of people have heard of the ship they called the Big J, but few have heard of the Slater, a destroyer escort.

She is being restored in Albany by a group of volunteers, including one of my oldest friends, Gordon Lattey, the guy who gave me my first newspaper job, in Brooklyn College, as a reporter for the school newspaper. When I learned he was involved, I made a donation and received a Slater cap.

And when I wear it around town, passersby sometimes thank me for my service.

The first time it happened, it caught me by surprise. The cap doesn’t say “veteran” as some caps do. I wondered if they saw me wearing a Phillies cap, would they think I was on the team?

When I get the “thanks,” it is often in passing. I don’t like getting credit for things I haven’t done, but it’s not usually possible — or necessary? — for me to explain I did not serve aboard the proud ship.

So what do I do? When thanked, I reply, “You’re welcome,” or “My pleasure.”

I did not serve because no one asked me to. I was eligible for the draft, but had my first child when I was 22, and in college. (College didn’t get me a deferment because it was night school and I was not taking a full credit load. I was too busy editing the school newspaper, which also didn’t provide a deferment.)

Only a couple of my friends were drafted. Another volunteered for the Navy, rose to the rank of commander and wound up commanding the Willow Grove Air Station. I attended the ceremony when he took over. Here was a guy I hired in college to be a news editor of a Brooklyn weekly I ran, and 30 years later, he’s wearing whites and gold braid (after working for the AP and then sliding into politics, working for GOP officials in communications).

That’s you, Commander Edmund J. Pinto.

My closest friend now was drafted in the ‘50s and spent most of his tour in Alaska, preventing a Russian invasion from the north and west. 

My uncles all served in WWII. None were in combat and none were harmed. My Uncle Joe — the only college grad in the family — was an officer and wrote a history of the CBI Command. That was China, Burma, India, a forgotten pocket of the war where my favorite uncle, Sonny, served for a while, reportedly running a Sgt. Bilko operation smuggling consumer goods over the Himalayas to U.S. troops who needed them. My father was 4-F.

Uncle Sonny brought me home some great souvenirs — helmets, Indian knives, Chinese puzzles, foreign currency and military arm patches. He was an MP for a while and I was disappointed I didn’t get his .45.

Those were the veterans around me. No one talked much about WWII, it was in the past. And it was a good war.

More was said about Vietnam. That’s because it was a “bad” war, partly because we lost and partly because the ugliness of war was brought into living rooms each night by TV. Critics accused the U.S. of war crimes, and in a few cases, there might have been something to it.

But I never indulged myself to call returning troops “baby killers,” as some did. 

I never confused the government’s strategy with the individual soldier following orders. I mean legitimate orders.

Not having a draft is both good and bad. 

Good was the social interaction of men — and women — from all across the country, and every income level. And making the government think twice about the use of force. Bad is forcing people to do things they don’t want to do.

Anyway, the draft is gone, has been for a while.

What we have now is a military that is 1% of the population, almost like a warrior caste.

They are not dregs. The modern military has no room for dregs. 

I admit my mental scorecard always attaches a plus to any veteran. Yeah, maybe not all are gems, but I will give the extra credit freely and hope I never have reason to withdraw.

On this day, their day, I say thank you to all who have served. The way I see it, you have not just served your country, you have served me. I take it personally.

Thank you.

21 thoughts on “The veterans in my life”

    To all that served. Thank You ! Welcome Home !
    To those that are not aware. Stu loves our military and has traveled to countries to fulfill his “bucket list”, honoring our Veterans that are interred in foreign soil. BTW. We do not own the cemeteries that honor our fallen. The grounds belong to the host nation. If you want to do some serious reading. Look up the various cemeteries. How our fallen are honored by generations of the local belief is truly amazing.
    The Slater: Not a big “war record”. For those that don’t know Navy. A flotilla would set sail. A battle group during the war would have more than thirty ships, including every type of fighting ship and all of the support vessels. War time, several groups would cross the ocean together. The carriers were in the middle. On the farthest out perimeter, was the destroyer escort. It had the shallowest draft and could navigate just about anything, anywhere. ( wooden ships and Iron men, “tin can navy” fits here ! ) These DEs, could move, and their primary job, was to protect the fleet.
    The draft: I proudly served, and also volunteered. I believe that we, the U.S.A., should reinstitute the draft. Most other countries still impose the draft. I feel that even those that have real reasons for deferment. We always need kitchen help.
    The New Jersey: Last served in Vietnam, after being outfitted with modern electronics. A buddy of mine was a forward observer in Nam. When he first worked with the Jersey, he radioed in the coordinates. They radioed back. “What grid are you in?” ! This was the ’60s. Ya had to be there.
    Wounded Warriors : Why does our government not take better care of our Veterans ? If it wasn’t for private organizations, stepping up to care for those disabled, the suicide rate would be outrageous !
    Thank You ! Welcome Home !

    1. What a day this is to remember all who have served. Thanks for sharing, Stu. You too Tony for direction into applying for a grave marker for my Great Great Grandfather (which is ongoing ). I believe it was the Battleship New Jersey who delivered a ‘payback’ for the marine barracks truck bombing in Lebanon. My brother wrote about it in a poem way back.

      From my Great Great Grand Father who served in the Navy in the Civil War to a nephew who was a Marine. From Great Uncles who served in WW1 to my 3 brothers who served in the Navy, Airforce and Army and yours truly, a short stint in the Army, to my father’s nephew (also a poem he wrote) who was killed stateside, 1943 in an Airforce training exercise. There are other relatives and many friends, the above I’m certain of.
      One other thing I read about was the 2000 or more who died after the armistice was agreed to until it was official 11am November 12, 1918.
      That’s a story in itself.


  2. You mentioned the draft in your article. I served four years of active duty in the far east at the beginning of the Vietnam war (1957-1961). I believe that the reinstatement of the draft would be beneficial to society. It would instill discipline in todays youth, and making it fairer having all serve the country. There would be NO deferments for anyone i.e., marriage, college or being rich. This caused much resentment during the previous draft days.

    1. I’m sure you’re aware Jim that it’s mandatory in Israel, both men and women. I knew a soldier who retired to Florida.

      1. Unless the law has changed in these countries. EVERY ONE serves active duty. I think, two years. There after, everyone is on call for the rest of their lives.

        1. My grandson Alex was born in Germany when my son was stationed there. Because his mother is Austrian (with dual citizenship) he, too, has dual citizenship. When he turned 18 two years ago he was required to serve six months in the Austrian army; every male who turns 18 must.. He wanted to join the US Army but was told he’d have to surrender his Austrian citizenship, which he did not want to do. Too bad for the USA, as he’s a smart kid, fluent in two languages, and loves the USA and Austria.

  3. I proudly wear my United States Air Force Veteran baseball cap, signifying my active duty service 1960-1964, with my group (6089th Radio Squadron Mobile) and my base (Misawa AFB, Japan) embroidered on the sides. What amazes me is how many vets I meet who were stationed at one time or another in Misawa, a small town on the far north of the main island (Honshu). I am doubly proud to have two of my four sons as veterans, one still in the PANG as a major in the medical group. And my dad served in WWII — not for long, he went over to Europe in October 1944 and was captured in December at the Battle of the Bulge. He survived his POW encampment, came home, and live to be almost 101. So, to all who served or who still serve, a heartfelt ‘well done.’ Freedom is not free. And we stand on the shoulders of giants.

  4. I served 18 months, USAF, in Japan; 18 months, USAF, in Crete; and 36 months in England as a civilian DOD employee. Prior to that, from birth until 1970, I lived in Philadelphia, Most Blessed Sacrament parish. I now live in Florida and spend my time visiting the urologist, the orthopedist, and the cardiologist.

  5. I am glad to see that us old salts, grunts, wacs, lifers and civvies have love and respect for those that came before us and those that serve now. Civic classes would help the young to learn what we know.
    Maybe some of you retired would volunteer your time and your memory in making a video of your service years. Amusingly, I’m still classified, yet I can watch some T.V. with classified info.
    Thank you all for serving. Welcome Home !

    1. Tony, I got a chuckle out of your comment about ‘classified’ info. I had a Top Secret/Codeword clearance (Russian translator) and had to sign an attestation that I would never divulge what we did in the AF, or speak of how we did it. Shortly after I was discharged, I was reading TIME Magazine, and there was an entire spread dedicated to EVERYTHING our group was doing in Misawa! Was it Twain or Franklin who said, “Three people can keep a secret, if two of them are dead”?

      1. true that, Vinnie !
        Same deal here, Lucile. 18 years old. Thought that I was superman. Here sign this . Sure, why not. Probably won’t get to see 19 anyway !
        Years later, when BRAVO was a real network, I saw film footage of Southeast Asia. They had the classified footage of enemy troop movement – with American prisoners ! I recognized some of it, and it wasn’t anywhere were we were supposed to be.



    If you won’t stand while our Anthem is played, instead take a knee as Old Glory’s displayed, and if you believe that your country’s unjust, then protest on your Dime ’cause I had enough.

    You see, I can’t stand and I can’t kneel and I can’t run like you do. I sacrificed, I paid a price and this chair that I’m bound in is proof.

    So when I turn on my set and see a protest at the start of a game that I love, you’ve blown your intention and lost my attention, I’ll protest by pulling the plug.



      We Were Young When We Took The Oath And Young We’ll Always Be. Never A Chance To Find That Love To Grow And Fulfill Our Dream. How Much Living Have We Been Cheated Lying In Our Graves? The Least They Can Do When Old Glory Is Waved 🇺🇲 Is Stand….While Our Anthem Is Played.

      We Can Feel The Rumbling Above The Misguided Of The Few. It’s Not About The Soldier They Say Instead Those Dressed In Blue. Don’t Be Fooled By This Deflection Remember The Blood Both Gave. The Least They Could Do When Old Glory Is Waved 🇺🇲 Is Stand….While Our Anthem Is Played.

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