Memorial Day is one of my favorite days of the entire year. I loved being a US soldier.
It was a pretty simple job. Today, my job isn’t so simple. But, hell, whose job is?
A few of you have asked about my time in the military. I always say this; if you or someone you know is considering joining the military, do it. You will never. Ever. Regret it.
I was stationed at Ford Ord in Monterey, California, home of the 7th Infantry Division (Light); The Light Fighter. It has a pretty extensive history. Basically it boiled down to this for the soldiers who were stationed at Ord. We were able to be deployed to foreign countries in 24 hours.
In 1989 the 7th Infantry Division Light was deployed to Panama to restore order in Operation Nimrod Dancer and Operation Just Cause. We would eventually capture Dictator Manuel Noriega. The jungles of Panama are unforgettable. In 1990 the 7th IDL joined the coalition troops sent to the Middle East to defeat Iraq during Desert Storm.
One of the units’ last deployments was to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. In September of 1994 Fort Ord closed its gates and forever became a part of US military history.
121 military bases have closed since the passing of the 1988 B.R.& C. Act.
That’s a fact that always concerns me.
I went back to visit Ord a few years ago. It’s completely different, but our barracks were still standing. The door being unlocked was a surprise. My wife and I snuck upstairs to snap a picture that I will cherish forever.
No matter what one talks about, when you are away for a little while, it always seems to mean so much more when you return to a place that was meaningful in your life.
But it was different; Much different. The colorful banners that meant so much to us as soldiers were replaced with anti-war graffiti. But as I looked from the window of my barracks, I could see the pull-up bars were still standing. God they kicked my ass so many times. Today it reminds me of looking back at all of those crushing defeats by the Brewers. It hurt, but getting your ass kicked teaches you a few things.
The biggest one is that you don’t want your ass kicked anymore.
The engineer coat of arms that we had spent so much time buffing to a high sheen was filthy, but I could have had it back to its proper, brilliant glow in no time. I remember thinking; damn I wish I had some Brasso in my pocket, this place looks like shit now.
The concrete where we used to do thousands of push ups was slowly being taken over by that california crab grass known as ice plant. A flat shovel would make it disappear in a few minutes, but the tool closet had long ago been emptied.
As we drove through the base, we slowly inched up drag ass hill where the struggles of reaching the top raced back into my mind. But those struggles were always replaced by the thrill of singing a rhythmic Army cadence that Sgt. Washington would belt out with such vigor it made me proud to be a soldier. And proud to be back on base.
The softball field where we won the post championship was a little overgrown, but give me a weedeater and we could have played nine innings. Those grunts wouldn’t have a chance. Would I go three for three again? Eh, this knee has seen better days, but that is a game that I will always cherish. Probably the lowest scoring softball game in U.S. Army history, but some of the defensive plays made that day by numerous players were highlight reel worthy. We had a few pops at Stilwell Hall that night as we celebrated our victory.
My wife and I drove by the old 52,000-sq ft social hot spot that we called the club. It had held celebrations for soldiers who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. It was built at the behest of its namesake, Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, who commanded Fort Ord and the 7th Infantry Division at the outbreak of World War II.
At the social club soldiers would have some fun when they got back from the field. Whether that field was WWII, Korea, ‘Nam, the jungle, the gulf, the ball field, it was always easy to tell who just got back from ‘the field.’ The walls of that great hall took in a lot of smiles over the years.
It wasn’t long after we left that Stilwell Hall was destroyed. I’m glad I didn’t see that in person.
But my memory of representing the finest country in the world will never be destroyed. We had a great time when we were soldiers.
I miss it.
PS If you see a vet today, give them a hug, give them a high five. They earned it.
Then tell them to drop and give you ten. I bet they can still knock out ten of the best pushups you’ve ever seen. You might get some props for knowing the military lingo.
I won’t tell them your secret.