I was a reluctant veteran, but on this Veterans Day, I gladly share the spotlight with those who came before me and after — men and women who served their country, wore the uniform and sacrificed (even in small ways) for the nation's good.
Watching a History Channel documentary on the Vietnam War last night, I was reminded of why I was reluctant to fulfill my obligation. By the time I faced mandated military service (my draft number was 29), most of the American public had turned against the war in Vietnam. The carnage in that distant land seemed pointless; President Nixon was already withdrawing troops under his new "Vietnamization" policy. I chose an option that made it unlikely (though not improbable) that I would serve in Vietnam. I applied for and won a slot in Coast Guard Officer Candidate School.
In retrospect, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I spent three years in Washington, D.C., at Coast Guard Headquarters. I worked for some amazingly efficient and dedicated senior officers. I met and got to know people from all over the country. My horizons expanded greatly. I experienced the metropolitan atmosphere of the D.C. area. My respect for those in uniform grew enormously. I developed great pride in the Coast Guard and its members.
I proudly claim the title of veteran, though I never faced combat, never endured an overseas deployment, never spent more than a couple of days at sea, and never had to work very hard after graduating OCS. At the same time, I learned what all service members learned — to focus on what's important, to obey orders, to respect those in authority, to work as a team, to be confident, to take pride in your work, to do things right the first time, to make sure there's "a place for everything and every thing in its place," to honor your oath to uphold the Constitution.
Most every veteran takes away these lessons from their years in uniform. Even 36 years after my active service ended, these lessons are still with me. I am a veteran.