I tested well, I could read and had taken math all the way through high school trig and geometry. I got offered electronics schools and I took it. Spent a year in schools after boot camp and then came out to be assigned to a fighter squadron as a RADAR and missile systems tech.
I went where the aircraft went. Which meant I was gone a lot. I went to Japan, Korea, and Philippines, and bases all over the U.S., wherever the training or operational schedule took us. My job wasn't physically that hard. I pushed a cart full of tools and parts out to the planes, worked with the rest of team to fix problems, did the other stuff all Marines had to do, and generally lived a pretty easy life.
At the end of six years, I came home from Japan and we decided I should get out because it didn't look like our marriage would survive with me being gone so much. I have some amazing memories, great photographs, and a few mementos. I have been a civilian since 1983. The electronics training I received became the basis of my working career.
And yet I am a Marine. I will always be a Marine. The summer of 1977 at Parris Island changed me in fundamental ways. Some of those changes are immediate, others took years to fully develop. But it is not me I think of when someone says veteran.
It is the Marines wading across the open water to make the beach at Tarawa. It's Marines at Okinawa, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Khe Sahn, Fallujah, and all the other places named and unnamed that Marines fought and bled. Those are the veterans we should be honoring today.
It's the old man in a veteran's ballcap tottering into the store that sacrificed his youth for all of us and then came home and helped build the country in the 1950s. It's the veterans that stayed in for 20 or 25 years, deploying around world on orders, and then retired and went on to a second job to support a family, and is now retiring again, hard of hearing, limited by old injuries, and looking at the country wondering what happened. It's the guys that still wake up with the dreams at 4 AM and stare at the ceiling hoping they didn't actually scream out loud.
There are debts we owe we cannot pay.