Veteran. It’s such a weird word, implying all sorts of common ground in terms of experience and patriotism. And yet we are as varied as our fingerprints. For my part, I have struggled with my identity as a veteran for many of my 56 years, a love-hate roller-coaster that continues to this very day.
I am the son of a man who spent 23 years in the Navy. My father retired as a Chief Hospital Corpsman, having been stationed everywhere from DC to Norfolk to Long Beach to Camp Lejeune. He fought on the ground in Korea and was awarded the Purple Heart after having been shot in the leg. My brother still has the bullet.
Following him from base to base, I grew up in military housing. I even lived in Tarawa Terrace at Camp Lejeune. I learned to play sports in base gymnasiums. I learned to live alongside people of other races and nationalities starting at a very young age.
By the time I was a high school junior in 1967, the prospect of serving in the military was not all that appealing. Vietnam was ripping our country apart – and I wanted to go to college. No one in my family had ever done that, however, and the path wasn’t clear. We were poor and there was no way my parents could afford to send me even to a state school. Plus we were hard core Christians who didn’t believe in borrowing money.
That’s when I applied to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. I was thrilled to be accepted, and at the young age of 17, I just knew I would be a career Navy officer.
After graduation, however, I quickly found myself active in the anti-war movement. I hated Richard Nixon for the same reason I hate George Bush: they are both cowards who sent my friends to die in a war with no purpose. My work for McGovern, however, did not go unnoticed. Though I did excellent work in my jobs, I didn’t fit the mold politically. I had a guitar case with peace symbols on it in my stateroom on the USS Charleston.
As punishment for being a “liberal,” I was transferred to a unit called 2nd Anglico at Camp Lejeune, where I earned by gold wings for making more than 20 parachute jumps. I also became further radicalized as I joined forces with a growing number of junior officers who didn’t buy the domino theory of Communist takeover in Southeast Asia. I got out of the Navy five years to the day after I was commissioned.
For a long time, I never talked about my time in the military – but in doing so, I now realize I gave up a lot of my personal power. I didn’t take advantage of my knowledge and expertise, my training, and my years of experience.
When the Child King started rumblings about invading Iraq, I got highly agitated and began to resurrect my political activism. I soon discovered the blogosphere, and eventually embraced my identity as a veteran by naming myself Anglico.
To this day, I cannot understand the knee-jerk instincts by so many military people to support Republicans. And yet, I suspect that Bush is single-handedly doing what three decades of my political activism could never do. He is destroying the stranglehold of the Republican Party on veterans, active duty personnel, and their families. He is helping them understand that they are nothing more than props for the sick game he is playing.
I am a veteran. I am a Democrat. And I am pissed.