Friday, May 28, 2010

Why Memorial Day is So Memorable To Me

I remember Memorial Day, May 28, 1984. I was on terminal leave from the Navy. I was concerned about my future, as I was able to gain entrance into the Navy (1981) only due to the tireless work of my Navy Recruiter, Chief Ray Ault (who died a few years ago- an event that brought tears to my eyes).

After a turbulent early life, filled with drugs, crime and delinquency, I became a man, and with that transformation came my need to repay society for my misdeeds- how better than to serve in the Armed Forces.

I was a tough guy, not long from prison, and I could only think of being a Marine. But after a quick discussion with a Marine recruiter in May 1980, I was laughed out of the office. But I was not deterred.

At the time I worked as a mechanic at Pine Street Mobil fueling station in Redding, CA., and I had the opportunity of meeting a fellow hot-rodder who often came by in the evenings, driving a mildly modified lime-green 1971 six-pack Cuda, usually accompanied by a six-pack of beer. His presence became pretty regular on either Friday or Saturday night and we’d kick back and talk about the stars, toss down a few beers, and watch the cruisers as they journeyed by in their own versions of a Friday-night hot-rod.

My friend was always a bit elusive about what he did for a living and I chose to not push it. But once, when a couple cruisers stopped to check out my friends Cuda, one of the kids knew my friend, and called him Chief Ault. Much to his chagrin, our conversation, and our relationship, changed that night. In short, he worked diligently, from September 1980 through April 1981, working with me on my interview presentation, and on a mountain of waivers in an attempt to do the impossible- get a two-time ex-con into the Navy.

Finally, his untiring work was successful and I entered Navy boot camp (San Diego) on June 2nd, 1981 (Platoon 1006!). I spent three years in NMCB-40 (Seabees) and I loved it, only left in want for something more .. intense.
Fast forward to May 15th, 1984- I just arrived back home from Guam and decided to take a really big chance; I was going to allow my active duty time in the Navy to expire without reenlisting – an important and dangerous decision because of my unruly past, still not yet far enough behind me to be considered the distant past.

I went back to see (then) Senior Chief Ault at the recruiting station and I told him of my plan; I wanted to reapply for the Marine Corps and see if I could transfer from the Navy Reserves to the active Marine Corps. Ray never batted an eye when I laid out my guts. The moment I finished explaining, he got up from his desk and walked out of the office without a word. “What,” I thought, “I am in trouble!”

Moments later Ray marched back in and he had a Marine with him. My heart dropped and I could not hold back perhaps the biggest grin of my life! Ray anticipated this very event and he had made a friend in the Marine recruiting office right next store. He had been watching my career and he knew what I was going to attempt even though I had not directly told him; what a guy! We all sat there at Ray’s desk talking for about 45 minutes, and it was not all that easy to convince this stuffy hard-core Marine that he could successfully put me in a Marine Corps uniform.

Ray said. “I’ll do it. I’ll do your paperwork; just bring me the manuals and the forms.” Nope, the Marine Sergeant wasn’t having any of that but it did prompt him to go ahead and try it himself.

It actually wasn’t all that difficult for the Sergeant to do- all he had to do (mostly) was resubmit the previously approved waivers and then fill out a bunch of paperwork that documented my accomplishments in the Seabees. But once the paperwork was done, I then had to go through another series of interviews in three different states as I worked my way up the west coast recruiting chain of command. With Ray on my side, and at times at my side, we followed the paperwork to each office, in three states, where it was to be reviewed and acted on.

Rather than taking a chance that someone would simply look at the paperwork and deny it, I made sure my face was there. For them to say NO would mean they would have to say as much to my face. And just as in the Navy, after interviewing me, no one wanted to say NO, but they wouldn’t say YES either, sending me further up the chain of command in need of a decision. Just as I met an Admiral in the Navy who finally sent me to boot camp, I had to stand tall in front of a Marine Corps General before I finally got a YES.

But back to May 1984. After the initial paperwork was done I had some time to kill. And Memorial Day was coming up real soon. As part of my newfound freedom I was going to be able to cast my first vote for a president in 1984, and I had learned to appreciate President Reagan during my time in the Seabees.


So, with a break from all the hoopla surrounding the service transfer, I decided to head east to Arlington National Cemetery where I had the privilege of donning my Navy dress uniform and watching President Reagan give the greatest speech I ever heard in person:

There are no words that can express what I felt during that entire time. “Dazed” is one.

I cannot explain the transformation I went through from late 1979 when I got out of prison through that moment when this Marine Sergeant decided he would “do what (he) can.” At that second I knew I was going to make it, and nothing was going to get in the way of me making myself a Marine way down deep inside from that moment on. I knew I could not doubt my own ability to sell myself to whoever demanded my presence for an interview. I prepared for this moment from the day I graduated from Navy boot camp and I was not going to be denied, but none of those days were my best day.

If I had to pick one moment in time- a moment in my life that spoke the loudest to me, telling me who I am— it was that protracted moment when I heard and watched, the humblest and most competent of all presidents of my life time, speak. He spoke to me, as I stood at attention, with the above words on May 28th, 1984.

If you’ve wondered why I take so much time out of my life now to write and to read about politics/government vociferously; if you are thinking I must not have much of a life to be spending so much of my time conversing on Facebook, twitter, my blog, etc. It isn’t because I am taking time out from my life, being a patriot IS my life. God Bless America, and God Bless all those who have fallen in service to these sovereign united States.

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