My service came about courtesy of the Selective Service. At the time, if your number was drawn in the lottery you were able to enlist in any branch of the services up until the day you were scheduled to report for induction into the army. The choice was a two year stint with the army, or a four year enlistment as a "volunteer" in one of the other services.
Other options included draft evasion by leaving the country, student deferments (think Dick Cheney), religious deferments (think the most recent political loser) or obtaining CO status. Or, if you were really well-connected, maybe a cushy stint with the National Guard.
My four years were spent in the USCG. I am proud of my service. I am not a flag waver. I don't wear lapel pins proclaiming my patriotism and I am not always proud to call myself an American.
But somewhere there is a man, who, if still alive, is close to 50 by now. He might have children or grandchildren too. He was pulled from Barnegat Inlet as a young boy, perhaps nine or ten. Blue in the face. Covered in a white foam. And not breathing. He'd fallen into the inlet. His parents were standing on the jetty waving frantically to us as we raced by enroute to another rescue. I was the coxswain and just happened to look over the rail of our boat and saw a body just under the surface. We turned around quickly and were able to find the boy again and in an instant he was pulled aboard. Once on deck one of the crew began trying to revive him. This was pre CPR days and none of us had much experience in resuscitation, but the efforts were successful and we returned to the station to a waiting ambulance.
The boy survived. His parents were grateful. As a crew, we were pretty damn proud. All our rescues didn't always have happy endings but I found comfort knowing that I wasn't shooting at an "enemy", probably around my age, simply because our governments had different political views. Instead of taking a life, I'd actually saved a few.
I think of this young boy, or man by now, every year on this day. I hope he's had a good life, but mostly I hope that he is serving his country in some small way. I'm hoping he's done the right thing.
He's kept my hope alive for forty years now.
Sure, today is Veteran's Day, but military service isn't all we should be honoring. I'll say thanks to all the others that might serve in a different way. I admire anyone that gave, or gives, to their country, no matter how, where, or why.
To the teacher helping prepare children for life beyond the cocoon, you have my thanks.
To the Peace Corp volunteer showing the world the real America, thank you!
In service to Americorps? I'm grateful to you for your sacrifices and want you to know that progress isn't always easy to measure. Your hard work does make a difference. It matters most to those that we'll never hear much about.
To the volunteer rescue squad that arrived minutes after I called, thank you!! The gentleman I found laying in the street is alive and well now, all due to your efforts.
Political volunteers? A big thank you to you all. I might not agree with your candidate, your party, your convictions or your take on religion, but I admire your participation.
And of course, to the women and men choosing to serve in our military, I thank you too. I might not agree with our government's military decisions, but motivation to serve is different for everyone and you deserve the country's support and gratitude.