Anyone doing any self-reflection must eventually follow Bunyan’s hearty Christian into the Slough of Despond and face his regrets in life. For my personal regrets, I am in the same class with Ol’ Blue Eyes and The King who sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.” Well, that’s half right I suppose. I’ve got a few more than a few, but only a few are still keeping me up at night. Most are the garden variety “woulda, shoulda, couldas” that I think everyone faces at sometime or another unless he’s very lucky or just doesn’t care about his legacy at all.
For me, though, one of the biggest of my regrets is having never enlisted in any branch of the military. My love affair with the military began with Top Gun. Remember back in ’86? Back when Tom Cruise was normal and Val Kilmer was thin?
I walked out of the movie theater after watching it twice back to back and walked straight to the recruitment office and told the sergeant behind the desk I wanted to enlist and fly jets. He smiled at me and said, “Just saw Top Gun, son?” I nodded vigorously. Then he pointed out I needed to finish college to be a pilot and it would be a lot easier to finish college if I started, then graduated, high school.
That was one jacked up piece of Ronnie Ray-gun era propaganda and I sopped it up with a biscuit! To this day, I maintain that men may weep at only three movie scenes: 1) when Ol’ Yeller dies in his movie, 2) when Old Dan and Little Anne die in the equally brutal tearjerker Where the Red Fern Grows, and 3) when Goose dies after the crash in Top Gun. If a man doesn’t tear up at those three scenes, he has no emotions at all and no woman should consider him as a suitable match!
Then, when I was a junior in high school, I fell in love with the US Naval Academy and I went balls to the wall trying to get in. I had the grades, and I’m pretty sure I could’ve passed the physical (that was a LONG time ago). Unfortunately, I didn’t have an appointment. For those who don’t know, unless you have a parent win the Medal of Honor, a member of your Congressional delegation has to appoint you to the Academy. Other than Strom the Undying, I didn’t even know a member of my delegation. So that was a dream that went by the wayside. Looking back, I think that huge disappointment was what set the stage for my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Senior Year. It sure didn’t help matters any.
After the Academy fell through, I was going to enlist in the US Marine Corp and be one of “The Few and the Proud”.
A car wreck took care of that. I have a mushy puckered divot in the outside of my left thigh from where a Jeep bumper took out a chunk of me. When I went to Fort Jackson for my military physical, the first thing the examining doctor did was shove his fingers right into the middle of that divot. I had just enough presence of mind not to take a swing at him as I crumpled to the floor. It’s not pain so much as it’s a weird creepy reaction but I can’t deal with having it touched. I get violently nauseous. Capt. Doc dismissed me right then by saying, “Assuming you pass Basic, you won’t pass the POW training. When you get ‘captured,’ that’ll be the point they start on. Sorry, kid, I’m just saving you a lot of trouble.”
So that’s how I ended up watching some deadly fireworks through night vision on CNN from a musty old couch in my dorm room the night GW’s daddy, GHW, started bombing Saddam the first time in ’91. Something has never felt complete about me because of that. Papa Wham was a soldier in The Big Red One. The First Infantry Division. His DD-214 reads like an atlas of the European Theater of WWII: Tunisia, Anzio, Sicily, Rome, Normandy, the Rhineland. My great-grandfather was a member of the American Expeditionary Force in WWI. I had relatives on both sides of the War Between the States. The men in my family have always been soldiers.
Daddy, as I’ve said before, went to Vietnam, and that’s the main reason I wanted to be in the military, and not just to sit around. I wanted to go to a combat zone and fight hard. I guess part of me hoped I’d either get killed in some gallant action and Daddy would be insanely proud of his medal winning son, or the experience of having people try to kill you
just because of your uniform would’ve put me on level footing with him. I just have a feeling he’d think I was more of a man if I’d been shot at on the battlefield like so many of my forefathers.
Even today, if I thought I could manage it, I’d take my 12 gauge Winchester pump shotgun and head for Afghanistan tohunt Bin-Laden. It might seem a little crazy, but then again, I AM a little crazy. I don’t know if I’d find the old boy, but never underestimate the ability of a crazy, wild-eyed Southern boy. Oh my, and if I did find him . . . I haven’t ever killed anyone, but they tell me there’s a first time for everything.
It sure would make hitting 40 a lot easier to take. I’d at least feel like I accomplished something with my four decades!
More on regrets tomorrow. Man, it’s getting close.
Love y’all. Keep those feet clean and take care of each other.