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