Last week I celebrated my 56th anniversary of my enlistment soon after high school graduation with the United States Air Force. I remember November 16, 1966, like it was both yesterday and a million years ago. I was just a kid from Roxbury who joined up with a lot of other kids to do our duty and in my case avoid the draft. I like making my own choices. Did then and still do today.
I graduated from the English High School of Boston on Avenue Louis Pasteur over in the Fens across the way from Boston Latin School. Back then, students still were required to take military science class and do drill. Once a week, we all traveled to school on the bus looking like the lost battalion in our World War II khakis. A few months after graduation, however, I was sitting in a real barrack in a real uniform. This time blue. I was no longer in the English Army but the real Air Force down in Lackland AFB outside San Antonio, Texas.
All of a sudden, I was in the real military with a war going on half-way round the world in a place called Nam. I had older friends already over there and others who would eventually get there, too. As bad as the world looks today, it seemed that much worse back then when you were four years out of St. Francis de Sales Grammar School in Roxbury.
I ended up very lucky like one of my Irish uncles, my uncle Joe Harrington. He enlisted in the Navy a few days after Pearl Harbor. He was deployed to the San Juan Navy Yard, where he did his whole wartime tour. He even met his future wife there, got married, raised four kids and called Puerto Rico his new home following the War. The only action he ever saw was on Saturday nights, as he once told me, and he once told me that World War II was the best thing that ever happened to him.
I must have gotten my Uncle Joe’s good genes because I spent my time in the air force and never stepped foot out of Texas.
In the 56 years since I finished my service, I have continued to be as active as possible when it comes to supporting military veterans. Today, I am a member of the DAV in Boston over in Dorchester, a member of the ITAM Post in East Boston and the Abraham Lincoln GAR Post 11 in Charlestown. I also work with the Veterans Voice Network here on the South Shore, helping to ensure that our older vets are getting enough food to eat, and volunteer down a monthly food distribution program put on by the Veterans Voice and WATD and WMEX in Marshfield.
When I think of Veterans Day, I think of all those Pearl Harbor survivors I knew as a kid. I think of a World War I veteran who also rode with Teddy Roosevelt as a Rough Rider up San Juan Hill. I think of a good friend of mine who is still with us today, Col. Enoch “Woody” Woodhouse [retired]), a member of the Tuskegee Airmen unit during World War II.
I also remember my great friend from Revere by the name of Morris Morris who passed away a few years ago. He never stopped working for veterans and he loved his country and praised all who served in both peacetime and in war.
This Friday I plan to be marching in the City of Quincy’s Annual Veterans Parade as usual with many of my friends. All I ever ask for is that everyone else doesn’t forget how important this holiday is and turn out for the parade to thank all those who stood up for us all and to keep America free. I will be marching for as long as I can because I will not forget all the sacrifices made over America’s lifetime.