This is a day and a season of thanksgiving and this year I’m most thankful for all that has happened. This has been a watershed year of memories and a chance to reconnect with people and memories from the past. Just yesterday I received a note from a surgeon who was once my boss at the Naval Submarine Medical Center in New London, CT. A few weeks ago I decided to write this man whom I had last seen on January 17, 1975. Dr. Biesecker was Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Medical Corps when I last saw him. I always called him sir, or Dr. Biesecker and all these years later when I decided to write a letter that’s how I addressed him. I thanked him for his influence on my life both then and now. A week ago I received an email from another former Navy medical officer, Dr. Copeland, with whom I served. I’m thankful to my nephew Tom Watkins who joined the U.S. Navy in January of this year, because it was Tom who helped rekindle this spirit within me.
When I left active duty in 1975 and the active reserves in 1977 I rarely looked back at my naval service. I was proud of it, but I got on with life. Other than a three semesters on the GI Bill I really never took advantage of the benefits veterans are due. Perhaps it was pride, but I never looked for a handout. I never joined the American Legion. I kept my uniform and mementos of my service, but I kept a low profile. About ten years ago at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner the speaker, Clebe McClary, invited those of us who were veterans to stand. It was really the first public recognition of my military service that had ever occurred. That was the beginning of a journey that continues to this day. Tom’s enlistment made the fire burn a bit more brightly. If it hadn’t been for Tom I don’t think I’d have gone to Albany, GA this year. If it hadn’t been for Tom I’d never have gone to Great Lakes Naval Training Center again. Because of Tom I relived a very special chapter of my life again. I tried to live that experience more mindfully this time.
I called Tom today to thank him for his service to our country and to tell him that I loved him and I’m damned proud of all that he’s done. I hope those of you who read what I have written will take the time to thank a member of the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines or Coast Guard. If you meet a veteran, thank them for their service. I pray daily for an end to war and I try to be an instrument of peace knowing well that there are war torn areas of our world that cry out for help.