First Class, Real Veterans, and Me


I don’t feel like much of a vet

 Not like some of the people I’ve met

     My maximum risk

     Was a drunk with a fist

But I boarded first on the jet.

Memorial day came clear and clean In Sioux City. With the terminal under construction, detours turned the parking lot ito a maze. National Guardsmen in well washed camo formed a knot of 8 passengers. From the salt and pepper hair and expanded waistline I inferred they were higher-ups and on their way to training. I talked with a young man out of uniform who was also with the guard. Now a police science student, a construction worker, and soon to be a staff sergeant with the Guard; moving his way up the career ladder and on his way to training in Nashville. He couldn’t name the seven uniformed services.

Most people can’t. Most people get as far as Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. A few guess Merchant marine and are wrong. Those who haven’t had personal contact with them don’t know that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a uniformed service, as is the Public Health Service.

I served in the Public Health Service. When I joined up they assigned me a rank and I had to buy a uniform that I never had to wear. It still hangs in my closet. I plan to get rid of it now that I’m sixty. I bought it used, it’s thirty years old and probably outdated.

I would probably volunteer to reactivate if our country had a health crisis involving large numbers of Spanish speakers. Such happened with the Mariel Boatlift, and with an unstable Cuba at our doorstep it could happen again.

The government treats me much better as a vet than they did when on Active Duty, but they treat all the servicemen and women better. Yes, things could be improved but things are much better than they were. Things will never be perfect as long as we continue to send people into harm’s way and combat.

As a country we treat our Service Personnel and our veterans much better than we did.  Some of the warmest, friendliest medical care now comes from the Veterans Administration system.

Coming from Minneapolis to Anchorage the first class passengers and veterans boarded first. The first four times the veterans were called I didn’t go up. I’m not a real veteran, I thought. Firearms were never part of my service to the country. In five years the most dangerous thing that happened to me was being hit in the chest by a drunk in the emergency room. I never really faced anything risky. The real veterans did.

To my surprise the veterans occupied about 20% of the seats.

I decided to be the last veteran on board. With a full plane from the Twin Cities to Anchorage was full I had to take a middle seat. The young man on my right was a veteran, too. He served four years in the Boston area. He never faced danger, either, he says. He was an experimental subject. They put him in a 14000 foot altitude chamber, they exposed him to cold temperatures, and on one occasion they cut a piece of muscle out of his leg.

He was in more danger than I was. I tried to explain the two Uniformed Services not under the Department of Defense, how I had a rank and a uniform. Eligible for veteran’s benefits, I got underpaid and overworked for 5 years.

He doesn’t understand how I don’t feel like a real veteran.

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