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13 Aug

Recently, I was out walking myself (the dog wouldn’t take me) and as usual I was wearing something Navy oriented.  In this case, I was wearing an old tee shirt espousing that Navy tradition I was so proud to be a part of, the US Navy Seabees. 

For those that don’t know, Navy Seabees have a proud tradition extending back to World War II.  That tradition includes professional construction, fierce defensive tenacity, and a complete irreverence for most other discipline and military conformity.  Things are much different now (there is a lot of professionalism in their day to day conduct), but to illustrate the past:  While in Vietnam, a group of Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Ten got into a disagreement with a bar owner.  The Seabees then pushed the bar off a cliff with a bulldozer.  While I can’t say I pushed any dining establishments off of a cliff, I can neither confirm or deny that there were rules I may have…bent…during my time with the Seabees.  Though only two years, it was one of the most personally rewarding times of my military career. 

But I digress…

Anyway, I was rocking a Seabee tee shirt while on my walk.  An SUV with a lovely mature blond pulled up next to me and rolled down the window.  Instantly I was suspicious; lovely blondes, mature or otherwise, seldom speak to me.  However, she asked if I was a Seabee, and when I responded in the affirmative, invited me to go speak with her husband, who had served in Vietnam with the ‘Bees.  He was a few streets behind me working in the garage.

I could have kept walking.

I could have thanked her.  And kept walking.

Instead, I turned around and went looking for this proud veteran. 

I found him in his garage.  His name was Rick, and he was about the same age as my father, finishing high school four or five years before I was born.  We ended up talking for over an hour, despite the fact that we had vastly different backgrounds.

He grew up in Orange County, CA, enlisted before he graduated high school, became a Seabee by accident, and was sent to Vietnam.  He served about three years, and then became a police officer, working in various departments and agencies for thirty eight more years of service before retiring.  Me, on the other hand, grew up in Martinsville, NJ, went to the Naval Academy, and tried very hard to get myself to the Seabees as an officer after I was medically bounced from flight school.  I served twenty years until retirement, and am now a high school teacher.

What I found was that we were way more alike than different.  Yes, different eras, different upbringing, different service experiences. But the similarities were way more important.  We both served in the Seabees, and though we both did a lot more with our lives after that, our Seabee time made such an impression that we both talk about it every chance we get.  We both served our entire professional lives in some capacity.  We both know people that died very unpleasant deaths and came back to this country under the US flag.  We both have serious medical issues related to our service, and both praise the VA for taking care of those issues as best it can. We both have the ability to swear like Seabees, meaning we could make hardened Marines blush with our artful use of vulgarity.  And of course, we both exaggerate a good sea story to make it the stuff of legend. 

This is the bond that veterans have with each other.  This is why I am more comfortable talking to almost any vet than I am to almost anyone else.  Some things change; a lot does not.  Most people my age have little in common with people their father’s age, accept maybe their actual father, but I can talk to a vet from any era with a fellowship and camaraderie that doesn’t exist in a lot of other professions.  We ended up talking for a long time, and exchanged coins, which is something virtually every vet and police officer understands, and virtually no one else does (look up “challenge coins” if you want to learn more).  We also agreed to get together soon, and he invited us out on his boat.

This would be a good enough story on its own, but it gets better.  As I was getting ready to leave, he mentioned that he retired out of the Santa Ana police department.  I mentioned that about two years ago I went to a SAPD retirement for my Naval Academy room mate.  He asked his name, and you guessed it, they knew each other well. 

So there I was talking to a man I just met, with whom I shared a deep military connection, a life of service, and by the way who both knew and respected an individual who made an impact on both our lives.  There are billions of people and almost 197 million miles of surface area, but it’s still a small world.

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