Editor’s note: What a better way to celebrate the Military Appreciation Month than with some “Why I Joined” stories?

May is here and spring is in the air unless you live in New England where it feels like March. However, May is National Military Appreciation Month. During the month, there are several days set aside for recognizing and honoring our military members, the grandest of which is always Memorial Day.

I’ve always enjoyed — and written about it here on several times — the entire Memorial Day process in our little town. The schools put together a bunch of programs and invest a lot of time and effort into them. Each of the elementary, junior and high schools have programs in which they invite vets from the VFW, American Legion, and Veterans Council, of which I am our local commander, to attend and participate. And of course, we also have our annual Memorial Day parade and ceremonies at the local town hall and cemeteries. 

Unfortunately, most of that will not happen this year. Schools are closed for the duration of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so none of those visits will be conducted. Even the annual Memorial Day ceremonies are in jeopardy of being canceled. We’ll have to recognize and honor our veterans the best we can, under the circumstances, with all of the specific days that have been set aside this National Military Appreciation Month. 

Which leads us to another topic. For all of our military members, both past and present, the question that is posed to them is “what made you join the military?”

Everyone has their own reasons. For some, it was the opportunity to put away money for educational purposes; and depending on your MOS and situation, there are opportunities to serve and study during your enlistment. Others feel the calling for service to their country and the need to pay their share for living under the umbrella of freedom that we all enjoy. 

May is the National Military Appreciation month

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Others just want “to get the hell out of Dodge” of life in poor communities with little hope of advancement or in a boring backwater and just want to get out and see other parts of the world. Job stability and benefits are a definite draw to those who fall under this category. 

The author with a pack animal back in his SF days in Central America.

Speaking for myself, the main reason I joined was that I wanted a challenge and to push myself beyond what I ever dreamed being capable of. To just join the conventional military wasn’t a draw to me. I was, at the time of my enlistment, in a dead-end relationship, working a job that I didn’t particularly enjoy, and bored. I wanted to be part of something special, and make a difference.

It was the best time of my life, and there is nothing I wouldn’t give to have just one day of it back again. So how did I get there?

Well, I can point to four people who factored in my enlisting in the Army. Those people are Vernon Gillespie, John Wayne, Robin Moore and my father.

Back when I was a kid, my grandmother lived next door to us in a big old home where my aunts and uncles all grew up in. She had a long-time subscription to National Geographic for all the grandkids to read whenever they came to visit. 

She had all these racks on the wall and I used to love peering through all of them. I had come across one from 1965 about Special Forces in Vietnam. It included the story of Vernon Gillespie and the SF guys who tried to quell the Montagnard revolt in South Vietnam. I was hooked.

One of my uncles had the book, “The Green Berets” by Robin Moore and I read it so many times that I could nearly recite it. 

Then seeing the John Wayne film of the same title, I became even more passionate.

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As I mentioned, the final factor was my own father. Guys from his old WWII unit, which had fought in Europe, would be frequent visitors to our home in the summers, when I was growing up. They’d regale us kids with stories — always the funny ones. If the talk got serious, they’d then retreat to the back yard where they could converse privately. This always piqued my curiosity and imagination.

Yet, as life sometimes does, I got tied around the axle with details and my plans got pushed back. I knew that if I didn’t sign up then, I wasn’t ever going to do it. As someone later told me, “there’s no perfect time to join SF. You either do it or don’t.”

So, I went to the local Army Recruiter and I mentioned Special Forces. “You’re in luck,” he said. “The Army had SF training open to only NCOs on their second tour, but they just opened it to first enlistment guys.” So I would be what was not-so-fondly referred to as an “SF baby.”

It was a great ride. Hopefully, yours was just as fulfilling. I am as appreciative of the military for what it did for me as anyone could ever be.