Last summer, when Norm took Jillian and me to Hawaii, it was the first time in forty years that he had been there, and the first time ever for Jillian and me. He was excited to show us where he had worked and lived for four years during his youth when he was in the Navy.
Though he does not believe that he did anything extraordinary, I think differently about his time in the service, and I am extraordinarily proud of him. He is a submarine veteran, and I don’t know too many people who wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks under water. I say it takes a special person, a brave person, to do that. He says that he was young and didn’t know any better.
He joined the Navy in 1971, a youth of eighteen who wanted more than Louisiana could offer. But when he finished boot camp, as he and his fellow sailors disembarked from the plane in Chicago, people spit on them, threw trash in their faces, and shouted epithets at them. These young sailors had never been outside of the United States, but feckless faineants called them “baby killers.” Those cowards could never have accomplished what Norm and his compatriots did on a submarine. In fact, submariners’ service goes largely unnoticed; stealth is their modus operandi, hence the moniker “the silent service.” But submariners and their kind didn’t join for the glory.
To me, the sentiment, “Thank you for your service,” rings hollow in the face of how Americans treated him as a sailor in the 1970’s. I sometimes wonder if the people who utter these words to him now are the same people who spit on him back then.
In spite of his treatment during the 70’s, our visit to Pearl Harbor was special for so many reasons. The three of us were together on a family vacation for the first time in a long while. Norm was revisiting a place he always remembered fondly, and he was able to share it with us. Finally, we were able to pay our respects to those who lost their lives in service to our country – men and women of the Greatest Generation. Though they perished, they were fortunate to have been appreciated during their tenure in the Navy. That’s not a small thing.
I hope that my gratitude towards the one percent of Americans who joins the military doesn’t appear empty. I truly am grateful, even though appreciation can never repay the debt. Nothing can, really. But, as I said before, genuine appreciation is no small thing. Ask any Vietnam Era veteran.
Anyway, here goes. To all veterans, I extend a heartfelt “thank you,” but most especially to my personal Number One Veteran. XOXO
A wonderful tribute to your husband and other veterans. I remember that era of spitting and name-calling, as well. It seems that people hated the Vietnam War especially and felt frustrated in attempts to stop it. But blaming the brave soldiers who were called to action–that was not a way to handle things. It seems that many people felt the same way, as these days servicemen and women are more honored. By the way, we went to Maui for a wedding last spring. First time in the islands–we attended a family wedding and loved it!
I was surprised at how much I loved it there. I have a winter soul and usually gravitate to the mountains.
Stacy, I haven’t been by for some time; lots of stuff going on in my life. But I was glad to see this and want to tell you I think this is a good post. My Dad was in the Canadian army during WWII and I have seen what it does to a young, sensitive man to be engaged in war for several years without much of a break. No phone calls home, only a few letters. And I have known several veterans from the Vietnam War, too. I strongly agree with you about how veterans are treated, especially when they return from a war. My Dad said little about his time overseas (he walked or drove a tank from the boot of Italy to the Netherlands, where he was part of the Liberation. He arrived home to Canada after the war, landing in Montreal on his 21st birthday; finally a legal adult and able to drink and vote.) We seem to forget that so many of the ‘boys’ were, in fact, really boys. That time marked him forever and I shall never forget it. Personally, while I do stand for Peace and for people maturing and learning to settle things without violence, I also respect those who put their lives in jeopardy to protect us until we reach that stage.
Dad told me that when he returned, people wouldn’t look him in the eye and sometimes crossed the street to avoid him. After all, he was now a trained and experienced ‘killer’. Young men were promised so much in order to get them to sign up and when they returned, the promises were not honoured. I shall never forget that, either. They were promised help to rebuild their lives. He and my Mum wanted to buy a small farm, but needed help to get a mortgage. The person they went to see in order to apply rather callously said that Dad wasn’t qualified for that. Dad asked what he was qualified for and the mad said, dismissively, that he could be a gas jockey (pump gas at a gas station). Dad and Mum walked out and didn’t ask for help for many years and I don’t blame him.
We ask so much of these young men and then we disrespect them, even despise them. I, too, feel that ‘thank you for your service’ rings a bit hollow, especially when I hear of so many who can’t find housing, can’t get meds, can’t get counselling, and so on . . .
I wear a poppy in memory of my Dad and two uncles who served all through November of each year. But we would do better to thank them by taking care of them after their service and doing it with love and respect.
A very over-long comment, I realize, but I feel so strongly about this and few people ever post as you did.
My friend in Tacoma’s husband was in the US Navy during the Vietnam war and was posted first in Hawai’i. He showed me where he was stationed and how close it was to the Arizona memorial, where he and others raised and lowered the flag daily. (I think it was at the memorial site, but may have been close by)
Thanks so much for speaking out. It has meant a lot to me. Love and Light to you and I hope you are doing well. ~ Linne
Wow! What stories you could tell! I just know that my husband is too modest to say anything, but I want his story to be told. XO
You too…and by the way, I know how to spell Pieter’s name correctly. I didn’t notice that WP “corrected” the spelling for me. 😉
Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said:
Your husband was a brave soul and he has done a lot more than most that only know how to spit on brave people or say something nasty. That proves them to be cowards.
My nephew is active in the Dutch Royal Navy and has been for months at a time, under water in the Caribbean. They do a lot more than any ordinary person would ever know. Also trying to control the drug trafficking etc.
A lot of sacrifices are being made for living such a life!
Pieter and I did visit the Arizona Memorial on Veterans Day one year; so very impressive and it feels like a holy place.
So you and I got to visit it before our President Trump did so!
Indeed, gratitude is a great thing to show towards all that served.
Both of us, coming from a country that lived through war and got liberated by e.g. U.S. soldiers and their allies, are forever grateful. Only Pieter lived through it and for me, the harsh years of post WWII are forever etched into my memory. The younger generations have no clue what it means. Maybe one day they regret their attitude towards those that managed to preserve their freedom!
Wow, what a history you and Pieter have! It would be nice if there were no need for a military, but unfortunately, we don’t live in that kind of world. Thankfully, though, we have the rare few who are willing to defend us. XO
Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said:
That is so very true. My Pieter also served with pride his 2+ years in The Netherlands and both of his brothers did, the middle brother was a Marine.
Enjoy your weekend!