Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Joined the Navy. Saw the World...

My first job after highschool was as a paid killer. A professional Assassin, if you prefer. I was 6'3" tall. 210 pounds of attitude, feared by men and loved by my mom. I had shoulder lenght sandy blond hair, piercing ice blue eyes. A 34 inch waist and a 53 inch chest. No one was surprised by my choice of employment. In fact most of my friends would have told you I was cut out for the job. The pay was not fantastic. But the work was invigorating. It seemed I had found my career path. At a local Extermination company. Rodents were my forte. But most of my hits were against serious subterranean termite infestations.
My first trouble in the business world arose when I was confronted by one of the managers about the length of my hair. Apparently customers in rural North Carolina in the early 1970's were picky about who they let crawl under their house, through muck and mire, to kill pests. The ultimatum: Either get a hair cut or get lost. I was making the company look bad. Covered in mud and grass stains. Reeking of sweat and death. And my hair made them look bad?!? It was a political statement. The hair was a statement of my views. Not an ego thing or some flower power hoohah. I had fights in high school with the BOYS FROM THE AG SHOP, on more than one occasion over my hair. This job wasn't gonna change me. So I grabbed my check and left the office for good.
The weekend was unmemorable. But on Monday morning I went to the Unemployment office to file for benefits. When my turn came around I sat down beside the desk of a very disinterested woman. She loaded the triplicate documents in to the Smith-Carona. She aligned the margins and began asking questions. She never even glanced at me or acknowledged me in any way. The gauntlet had been thrown down and I willingly accepted the challenge. This person was going to notice me if i had to set myself on fire to do it. Her litany continued and I answered all the questions in order.
Name? Age? Address? SSN? High school Graduate? Last position held? She typed my answers as fast as I spoke them. And still she didn't look my way. Then she said "Type of employment you are looking for?" There was my opening. I said and she began to type, "Viking or part time buffalo hunter." Half way through the task the clack, clack, clack of the keys against the platen went silent. And in one smooth motion she grabbed the top of the document, jerked it clear of the typewriter, wadded it into a ball and dropped it into the trash. Without so much as a blink she turned to me and said "Why don't you try the navy? That's like being a viking isn't it?"
I said "Okay! Where's the Navy?"
She said "out the door, turn left. Third door on the left." She had brown eyes. And I had succeeded.
Two weeks later I was on a plane to bootcamp in Great Lakes, Illinois. The recruiting motto in those days was Join The Navy; See the World. And they weren't joking. On 23 February 1973, I began an adventure that would last for 21 years five months and eight days. The map above shows the places I went around the World. The Homes in the US I lived in were: San Diego California. Key West, Florida. New Port, Rhode Island. And Charleston, South Carolina. With a 3 1/2 year home port assignment to Yokosuka, Japan. In 21 years of active duty I spent 16 of those years at sea.
Sailors belong on ships, and ships belong at sea. And a day in port is a day wasted. All 16 of those years I celebrated my birthday in a foreign port. With the exception of my last birthday celebration in the Navy, when I had duty on board overnight. I loved every minute of it. You cannot do anything for that long and not like it! If I had to do it over again, I would not hesitate. And by the way, I ended up getting a haircut anyway.
I had always had a problem dealing with people in positional authority. Politicians, and elected officials, Corporate executives, police officers, some school teachers, and most school administrators would all demand respect without earning it. Yea,Yea, I know. You kissed a lot of butts to get where you are now, and I have to respect you for it. The military was different back then. I was surrounded by heroes and war vets every where I looked. I had people to look up to and they cared if I succeeded. In fact their careers were affected by the actions of the people assigned under them. My life depended on them knowing and doing their jobs. And their lives depended on me knowing and doing mine. There is a feeling of brotherhood that exists no where else. The French call it "Esprit de corps."everyone in the military experiences it, and understands it, even if they cannot explain it.
This was a backdrop to my quandary. With my wife's assistance, she did all the typing, writing and mailing, we filed papers with the VA for compensation. Almost every other day of the next two months, the VA requested more paperwork. Copies of my discharge papers, military medical record, civilian medical records, copies of driver's licenses and Social Security cards. The list seemed endless. About three months later we received the official response. It said that the VA was aware that benzene exposure could cause the kind of cancer I had. And they believed that I had cancer and had been exposed to benzene. But because I had never actually stated that my cancer was caused by my exposure. My claim was denied. ????!!!!???? The forms and paperwork never had a space for causation! They never asked for my opinion. We had dotted every I, and crossed every T. What to do next? The denial letter said we had 180 days to appeal their decision. So out of frustration and a bit of desperation, we asked Dr. "H" to please write a letter to the VA on my behalf. She agreed, and we submitted our appeal. The cycle began again! More requests for documents. This time rather than submit the documents ourselves we signed paperwork giving the VA permission to request documents from the original sources. A few months after that we received another letter. With no hope other than the promise of our God to provide for our care, we read the letter. They agreed with the Dr.'s summation and granted me a 100% service connected disability. I was now an official Disabled American Veteran. There was no Purple Heart. I had not earned one. I didn't want one. This country and it's citizens owe me nothing. The VA's official recognition of my sacrifice was enough. The last benefit I hope to collect is my military funeral with the appropriate honors. But I don't expect that to happen soon. Thank you for hanging in so far.

KrippledWarrior. STGCS(SW) USN Ret.


Blasé said...

I swear, if it's not Elvis, it's you! "Don't touch the hair"

I didn't have the large stature as you, but I could kill me some termites just as good as you did, I'm sure. And, it was with a company in good o'le NC, back in 1983!

Also, back in the day, I had more than one woman approach me in public just to let me know what she thought of my hair. Those were the days...

Kelly Combs said...

Well the end of the first paragraph made me laugh out loud. I was expecting you to be a sniper, and you were an exterminator! Then when you said you didn't want to cut your hair, I was thinking "ah, oh, I know you have high & tight in the military."

Great story, and I'm glad you got your benefits. You deserved them!

My ADHD Me said...

I AM SO GLAD THIS STORY ENDED THE WAY IT DID! You spent most of your life fighting and working for your country. The let down would have been a slap in the face.

Navy Boot Camp reminds me of the Fire Academy. Ours is one of the top ones in the country and it is said that it is run in military style. You respect your officers. You don't question authority. Your life depends on it. And if you screw up, you don't do push-ups alone....your entire group does them. Now THAT'S incentive!

Like Kelly, I thought you were going to say your first job was as a sniper or something like that. Exterminator made me laugh at loud. So did the Viking or Part Time Buffalo Hunter. Obviously that lady wasn't stupid. She sent you exactly to the right place.

Gotta Have Faith said...


My brother was in the Navy from 1978 through 1984 I believe and was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. He was a Gunners Mate 2nd class stationed on the USS Midway now on display at San Diego. I do not talk to him much, but know he was so fond of his adventures and life when he was in the Navy.

I Almost joined, but decided not to when I was young.


SusanD said...

Great story. I knew darn good & well you got a hair cut. My hubby was 24 yrs AF. Glad the VA is compensating you. Blessings, SusanD

My ADHD Me said...

I just noticed that you took Edie's advise and put your metals on your sidebar. They look great!

Heart2Heart said...


Thanks for you intro to the Navy! I wondered just what provoked you into joining.

The story you shared was personal and from the heart. I love the transparency in every detail you shared.

The best part you truly saved for last. That despite all the lengthy procedures to apply, you didn't give up. Now I can see where your character comes from. You didn't give up when you were diagnosed and almost died and you didn't give up when the VA said NO!

Love your strong will and determination. It's in everything you write and take a stand for. No nonsense kind of guy.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Edie said...

The paid killer line took me by surprise. The exterminator answer cracked me up.

Ok I think we would've butt heads in my younger days. I was a bit headstrong myself.

I couldn't help but see how God used your attitude to lead you to the work He prepared in advance for you. Haha! And you thought you were in control all that time. :)

So glad you got the benefits you were entitled to.

Looking forward to more tales of the sea.

Edie said...

Oh and thanks for putting the medals in your sidebar. Now all those inquiring minds will find answers. :)

Lindsey said...

My father did 30 years in the USN (and went to Vietnam), my husband did 2 combat deployments to Iraq (as a SEAL). Thank you for your service. I'm happy to know the VA is giving you the benefits deserve. Even if the American people owe you nothing, you can rest assured that many, many of us still offer our thanks.