In Service

Posted on November 9, 2015


I always try not to get into the “well, things were a lot better when I was growing up, or in college, or…” and you fill in the blank.

This generational gap between my age—ahead of the Baby Boomers—and my youngest child’s cohort, the Millennials—often leads one to conclude that one generation—mine of course—was a lot better than the preceding ones.

My music was better. Morals were better. Work ethics were in place, and, conversely, tomorrow’s leaders—Millennials, Generation Ys and Xs, etc.—and their culture pales in comparison.

I don’t think this is necessarily true. While I think, for example, that Hip Hop and Rap is pretty crappy, a moaning Elvis Presley from the mid-twentieth century is not much better. The examples for comparison would take a book and somebody has probably already written it, or composing it right now.

Let me comment, however, on one area which all generations share in common, military service.

My youngest, a professional pilot, and I were yakking about something the other day. I was sporting one of my Navy sweatshirts that I pick up at Annapolis when I go occasionally for a Naval History Symposium, and my son chuckled, “ah the Gavy.”

“The what?” I asked.


He smirked, and then I realized he was alluding to gays in the Navy, and, by implication, a world pretty new to me.

The Navy, my old service, in fact does seem to be leading the other sister services in accommodating to the new laws of diversity. Instead of iron men going down to sea in wooden ships, it sometimes seems all of society today is at sea—gays, lesbians, and other mutations of the human condition, and, gasp, women too—all traveling and working together to keep the boats going and up-to-date, launching jets, drones, and SEALS at the bad guys of the world.

That’s certainly one aspect that has changed since I was Gun Boss—Weapons Officer—on an old World War II era tub called the USS Donner (LSD 20) in the mid-1960s. We sure didn’t have women on board and if you were gay, you kept your mouth shut and your aberration to yourself.

As I read a biography of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt these past few months, I discovered that the Navy had also changed dramatically in the early 1940s. Under the pressure of war (WW II) and the growing civil rights movement, the President forced the Navy to start integrating the fleet, albeit very gingerly like assigning black sailors to billets other than simply the kitchens and the galleys on ships. This was a big change, thought of as a monstrous violation of discipline and tradition by many old time officers and sailors.

So, I am not so hidebound as to think that the new Navy is so outrageous. It represents a face of our country’s evolution into what are now acceptable practices, which put a premium on diversity and a watered-down, politically correct version of old prevailing moralities and ethics. The Navy wants to be representative of society, morality, and demographics in general.

I think women flying high performance jets off and on carriers—arguably the most difficult of all flying demands in all the services—is great. I’m not quite so sure sharing quarters with a transvestite or a man/woman is advantageous to making the Navy the best fighting machine in the world.

Today we have all volunteer services. The last draft or general conscription ended with the Vietnam War and that itself is almost ancient history, right back there with the Peloponnesian War.

And that brings me to the point of this short essay on the eve of the week that we celebrate Veterans Day, November 11.

Veterans Day dates from World War I, and it was called Armistice Day to remember the armistice that brought that long, brutal, destructive war to an end. The armistice was signed on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918, and that ended the Great War, the war to end all wars. Not. The Second World War was just around the corner.

My father and his brothers enlisted for the First World War. Numerous of my cousins fought during the Second World War. My oldest brother served during the Korean War, and I signed up and served during the Vietnam War era. You get the message. Service was a part of what their generation and my generation were expected to do.

And so I salute all you veterans, those who were drafted, those who enlisted voluntarily, those who served as officers and men in all the services. You have earned the right to a justifiable pride—a good pride—in having served your country in land, and air, and sea.

This Op Ed published as Military Service is a Long-Time Family Traditionin The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday November 8, 2015