Benefits of National Service


Back before the Dark Ages, when I was a young man in my first year of college, thinking about joining the military was way off my video screen. Nobody in his right mind thought of voluntarily joining the military; that was something you got drafted into. This was a few years before the Vietnam War began in 1964.

My college career did not go so well, and I left after the first year and bummed around at various no-future jobs. Then I woke up; I was always a newshound; I sensed that we might be heading into some type of military action in Southeast Asia. My God, I was draft bait. After a great deal of thinking, I voluntarily, yes, I said voluntarily, enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves. I had intended to return to college, but I wanted to cover my behind.

When my reserve company was given preliminary orders to prepare for a general call-up in 1965, we went to the mountain warfare training camp I northern California where I zigged when I should have zagged and ended up flat on my back in severe pain after slipping from a rope during a full-dress rappel. The result being that a year later I was medically released from the Marines with an honorable discharge following.

Many in my unit were called to Vietnam and some did not return. Being a small arms specialist, I would have been one sent to Vietnam. I had survivors’ guilt for many, many years. I looked back on my days in The Corps in a not-so-happy way.

But over the years, my opinion began to change; I met other Marines, some were survivors of WWII; others were Korean War vets and all of them welcomed me as an equal member of the great fraternity of those who served.

The other day I was reading the Washington Post and came across an ad by Comcast showing a young female employee of Comcast in the uniform of the United States Air Force with a broad smile on her face. This intrigued me. I then searched the internet for other photos of female service members and saw the one attached to this blog.

They are all extremely happy. Why? Why was I now extremely happy that I served? It baffled me before I realized that we are happy because we have all or are all doing something greater than ourselves. We are doing something that puts others first. It may be for only a short tour in the Corps, or some other branch; but the fact is we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others.

This is probably one of the reasons that after my required midlife crisis I became a teacher and am happier than I have ever been. I am serving others; I am elated and gratified that I have a second chance to help others that need my special talents. As with the young military women in the photo, I am again putting others’ needs before my own needs.

This is one reason why I strongly support national service for our youth. It gives them a chance to put others first.

I can hear my son now. “But Dad, not everyone is cut out for the military.” I used to fight over this with him, but now I say that it does not necessarily have to be the military. My sister served with Vista in her youth, serving those who needed her special.

So, I look at these happy servicewomen, sometimes wishing I had been able to stay in the Corps. I realize that I did love the time I served as a young Marine. But I now love my time as a college professor. When I finally do retire; and I have tried it unsuccessfully twice; I guess I love putting others first. I hope to fondly look back at my life and be happy that I put others before myself.

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