There is a scene in the movie "The Great Santini" where Bull Meechum is sitting on the front porch reading the morning papers and getting upset at something Castro had said and Bull was yelling that he would fly his Phantom down the streets of Havana chasing that bearded...well, you get the idea. So much about that movie reminded me of life with the Chief (my dad).
The Chief used to watch the evening news and read the morning papers; he would ask me if I understood what this meant or what would be the effect of that. He was usually patient with my lack of insight or understanding and when I got old enough, he would explain how the events in the news had a direct impact on our family. We were Navy. When stuff got serious, the Navy got into the thick of it, in one way or another. He was always on top of every bit of news, national or international, and had a grip on what would likely happen next. A crisis in the Orient meant a long boat ride for a lot of Marines or Soldiers...and guess who drove the boats. Or more directly, since the Chief was a salvage/repair diver, a sunken ship or plane downed in the ocean meant a long deployment while he went off to salvage/repair...or recover the bodies.
The Chief used to say that one day he would retire and leave all that stuff behind. He said on the day he retired he would tie an oar to the top of the car and start driving until he got to a place where someone asked him "What's that?" That's where he would settle down. Of course, he didn't do that. We retired in San Diego. But I think that mentally he did withdraw from all things Navy. We lived in El Cajon, a thirty-minute drive from the huge Navy bases in San Diego and not one time did I ever see him go to any of the bases for anything. When Betty Lou (my mom) died, I was the one who went down to 32nd Street Navy Base and did the paperwork to remove her from the Navy's compooters.
I used to tease him about how he went from this self-educated expert of current events to a suburban-dweller whose major concern in life was crabgrass. He retorted that the crabgrass was a real issue for him nowdays...the rest don't matter anymore. I guess I saw his point; after a lifetime of being close to the point of the spear, it was probably a relief to be "insignificant".
I realize that because of his interest and commitment, I was more aware of the effect of news items, at least as it pertained to our family. I think that this is one distinction of military families. That they are more focused on the world around them. Even in today's world with all the terrorist threats and mass shootings and such, I think the military families are more aware and tuned in than their civilian counterparts.
When the Chief retired from the Navy, I was still in high school. In one of my social studies classes we were assigned to pick a topic from the news and do a report on it. One of the stories that was getting a lot of attention at the time was a concern that Japan was trading with communist China and North Korea. Talking heads were declaring that after all we spent to rebuild Japan, they were "going commie".
I wrote a detailed report about why the trade was necessary and that Japan would NEVER become a "commie" country and why I believed that was so. In all honesty, I picked that story because it was a skate. I wrote it all off the top of my head based on what I had learned by living in Japan for two years. I had absorbed more from being there and being involved with the people and the community we lived in than I ever would have gained from reading newspapers or encyclopedias. And I didn't have to go to the library and actually WORK at it. Mr. Zumwalt told me that he knew I had skated through it but that it was such an insightful piece that he would overlook my lack of a bibliography and give me an "A" if I presented the paper to the class orally. I smiled and took a "B". But he point is that not one other kid in my class had any inkling of what news stories had to do with their lives...other than the surf reports. I had first handexperience with Japanese people, friends and foes alike. I had a sense of the Japanese respect for their nation and its history and people. I had stood in Kamakura looking up at the huge bronze Buddha and learned that it was once the center of Japanese politics even before Edo (now Tokyo) was the capitol. I walked the streets of Tokyo and its famous Ginza. I saw the places where modern history was made in Yokohama and Hayama.
When we studied history or current events in school, many of the places were not just words on paper to me, they were places I had lived or visited.
When we studied the attack on Pearl Harbor it wasn't just words in a book...I had lived there, too. One summer afternoon I sat on a hill overlooking "Pearl" and envisioned the hordes of single-engined, carrier-borne Japanese airplanes as they swooped down out of those hills onto an unsuspecting Navy base on a peaceful Sunday morning. I have been on Hickam and walked around the seaplane hangars and even dabbled my feet in the oil-slicked water of the Harbor itself.
The Chief instilled the appreciation of historic things in me, and made me read as much as I could stand about WWII.
When I joined the Army and found myself in Germany, I saw place names and immediately associated them with things I knew about what happened there. And not just from WWII or WWI...but a greater feel for all the history surrounding specific locations.
There is a tree in Worms, Germany that is long dead but held together with iron rods and cement. It is called the "Luther Tree". Martin Luther sat under that tree and told his students that his reformation movement would last as long as this tree stood. It is a little funny that the Lutherans have gone to such great lengths to keep the tree standing...but more importantly, Luther sat under that very tree...and so have I. Worms was the center of a lot of things many, many years ago...the legend of the Nieblungen, and the Diet of Worms (go ahead and laugh...I did too, the first time I heard it) and so many other legends and stories along the Rhein river.
I have spent time wandering through castles and monasteries and battlefields and historic sites of all kinds. I have pictures of MC and our kids in Trier by one of the oldest Roman sites in Europe, and sat on the balcony at the General Walker Hotel in Berchtesgaden in the exact same spot that Adolf Hitler sat when that hotel was called the Platterhof.
We sat in the same room in the Ludwigsburg Castle where Napolean demanded the King Friedrich provide troops for his advance into Russia...and by the way, Napoleon came away from that meeting remarking of Friedrich: "I had no idea the human body could contain so much fat."
Maybe all this just sounds like bragging. But my kids got a similar indoctrination and they have a similar appreciation; after all, they spent big chunks of their lives in Germany and visiting other places. We made every effort to expose them to the kinds of experiences I had had.
And military kids know that when the headlines say that someone has invaded someone else and the United States "will not tolerate that form of aggression"...that means daddy has to pack up his stuff. Not saying they are better...but different in a good way.