My military days

Rick Watson
Posted 5/1/16

I opened a wooden jewelry box this week that has been a fixture on my desk for 40 years. I was looking for an old pocketknife, but what I found was a piece of paper that represented a milestone in my life.

The jewelry box was a gift I bought …

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My military days

Posted

I opened a wooden jewelry box this week that has been a fixture on my desk for 40 years. I was looking for an old pocketknife, but what I found was a piece of paper that represented a milestone in my life.

The jewelry box was a gift I bought myself in Panama in 1972. It came from a duty-free shop that smelled of sandalwood incense and cedar. The box is perfect for storing small things I want to keep but no longer use that often. A firebird necklace Jilda bought me as a birthday present in the 1980s is in there along with an old leather wallet that I didn’t want to throw away.

It was in the wallet where I last remembered seeing my DD-214, which is an official document that Uncle Sam gave me signifying I served honorably in the U.S. Army. One of the last things an Army official told me as I walked away from Fort Sumter, South Carolina was, “Hold on to this, it’s important.”

Flipping open the tired old wallet, I saw the document still tucked beneath the picture holder. It was tissue-thin and yellow from age. When I unfolded it, there were holes in the corners where the folds met. Holding it between thumb and forefinger, it looked like a crocheted handkerchief my great grandmother made.

I moved closer to the bedroom window to get a closer look. I was in the Army from April 1971 to April 1973. Gently folding the document, I tucked it back into the slot where I’d found it and placed it back in the cedar box.

Reflecting on my time in the military, I can say without hesitation that serving was an honor, and it changed my life.

I sometimes wonder what our country would be like if the draft were still in effect. I guess if it were, both men and women would be pressed into service.

From experience I can tell you that time in the Army did me a world of good and changed my point of view. I got a chance to see other parts of the world and do things I would never have done had I not been drafted.

Many of my friends served in Southeast Asia, and they had a harder time than me, but getting drafted, when viewed from this vantage point, was a good thing for me.

My military service gave me a leg up when applying for jobs, loans and college.

But things are different now. It’s hard to know how young folks would do in the military. Most of the young people I know are tech-savvy, and the military is high-tech, so I’m betting it would be a good fit in most cases but who knows.

Having said this, I do believe that we would look at world conflicts differently if military service was compulsory. I think we would be less willing to send our troops in harm’s way if we had sons, daughters and grandchildren in the military.

Things look different when you have skin in the game.

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Changes is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at rick@homefolkmedia.com.