“How has your life turned out differently than you imagined it would?” The question begs framing to a particular age with a plan.
I used to sit with my best friend, David Kaufman, around a fire in the backyard. We had the map of the United States from the McNally Atlas. We had outlined sections in anticipation of an invasion by the Russians or Chinese. David and I would build defenses with machine guns and other things to protect us and those within the boundaries. A couple of ten-eleven years old who thought one day they would defend the country. A year or two later, David moved and shared dreams died.
I don’t remember thinking past graduation in high school. The Viet Nam War was all the news those years. My family could not afford college for me, and I wasn’t hip enough to consider borrowing the cost or working my way through school. My grades weren’t enough to get a scholarship, and I would be 1-A in the draft when I turned nineteen. Why plan more than getting a job until the draft claimed me?
I graduated high school in 1965. I was seventeen-years-old. A friend of the family helped me get a job in a foundry in Skokie, Illinois. He also allowed me to share his apartment for several months. Five days a week, I walked to the train station and took it into Skokie. I changed to the Chicago “L” or the elevated part of the elevated and subway system to reach the workplace.
The foundry had a process where it impregnated metal castings with liquid sealant. Castings were porous when made, and the sealant fills those pores: vacuum and high pressure used in the process. I remember one of my coworkers mentioned that some of the castings were for the space program. He could have been joking. I don’t know. My first college credits from the University of Illinois Waukegan Extension were earned while working there. I had no plans for the future except not continuing to work here. I changed jobs a few days after turning eighteen.
I applied and was accepted to work for Abbott Laboratories in Waukegan. The family friend was a microbiologist working at the Laboratories. He helped me get the job and encouraged me to consider a career in the same field. I was still rudderless and thought, why not. Besides, Abbott would help with the college costs. The company had a college aid program. I used it to take courses with the Loyola University in Chicago. I planned to become a microbiologist, a scientist. (Laughing out loud!)
All good plans never survive contact with the enemy. The enemy that disrupted my road to becoming a microbiologist was the US Selective Service. The draft notice was for the US Army, but I enlisted with the US Navy to report in November 1966. I gave up my job with Abbott and dropped out of the college courses. The goal now became surviving four years in the Navy.
Boot Camp at the San Diego Naval Recruit Training Command during December, January, and part of February was something to be remembered. We started with the assignment to a company. My company commander was a Filipino First Class. He introduced us to the barbers and their shears, doctors with their air-powered vaccination guns, dungaree uniforms, M-1 rifles, the schoolhouse, and the ‘grinder.’ The plan on day one was to survive boot camp.
The grinder was where we spent much of each day. We marched everywhere in formation. We marched to nowhere together. Our company commander seemed to enjoy keeping the company on the grinder for hours, practicing formation drills. “Forward March, Right Face March, Left Face March, etc.” Thirteen weeks we marched, until the day we marched for the last time to stand in formation with the other companies at our graduation. The day was made more special by the presence of my Father.
The new plan was to make the best of the next six years. Yes, not the four initially signed for, but six. The Navy allowed me to extend my enlistment to six years to become a specialist in one of the electronics fields. Or I could become a Vietnamese or Chinese linguist. I opted to extend my enlistment.
The new plan stretched from six to seven years. I had a year of electronics and computer systems training before my first duty station. I was on my second assignment when allowed to attend Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, Texas. I earned a degree and the love of my life.
Marriage meant a new plan. It was to provide for my wife and our children when they came. The Navy and subsequent civilian jobs were the means to that goal.
I am retired now after plus twenty-five years in the Navy and plus twenty-five years as a contractor. The new plan is to enjoy time with my wife, my grown kids, and their kids—our grandkids.
God knows I could ramble on, but I figure you are tired of reading by now. I suspect I will fill in the days between Corpus Christi, Texas, and Hanover, Maryland, where we now live in future writings.