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Robert Klose of Orono is a Navy veteran and four-time winner of the Maine Press Association award for opinion writing.
I served in the U.S. Navy. Willingly. I recall being excited at the prospect of living on a ship, sailing the bounding main, and visiting foreign countries. I wound up doing all of these things, while being mindful of my peers back home who chose to stick to a safer, more traditional track. One that was risk-free, predictable and certainly more lucrative. I wished them well and went off on my adventure. I was very young and raring to see if I had what it took to make it on my own as part of an organization brimming with resources.
The thing about the military is that it trains one to do a job and then expects you to be able to do it. After boot camp, I went to Hospital Corps School, then did a few months at a naval hospital, where I learned to suture, apply casts, and even deliver babies, before being sent to my ship. The U.S.S. Saginaw had no doctor. The only other medical resource was a chief corpsman, a seasoned Vietnam veteran, whose first words to me were, “This is your sickbay. Don’t bother me unless somebody bothers you. Your patients are waiting out in the passageway. Good luck.”
And so it went.
I consider my three years on the U.S.S. Saginaw one of the most important periods of my life. For several reasons. One, it was a unique experience. Two, it required that I muster the skills and finesse to get along with 200 other men I would otherwise not have chosen to live with in the close confines of a ship. Three, it placed awesome responsibility on my young shoulders, and, as time went on, I found that I was rising to the challenge: at some point — I think it was while suturing a deep facial wound as I struggled to keep my balance as the ship pitched in high seas — I no longer felt like a kid. In short, the Navy is where I grew up.
In other words, I felt like anything but a loser. Or a sucker.
I found that the Navy was rife with opportunities for one to excel, so my trajectory was always upwards. All I had to do was be willing to say “Yessir” or “Yes Ma’am,” and all the doors opened: Advancement in rank, increased pay, favored duty stations, extra shore leave. Conversely, if a sailor was oppositional, opportunities were curtailed and penalties imposed. Maybe those latter sailors were the losers. But only temporarily: They could always redeem themselves and get back with the program.
The upshot is that I felt that I was doing something important in the Navy. When the chief corpsman was on leave and I was in charge of the medical department, I knew that the ship couldn’t sail without me. When the captain came to sickbay, I was humbled to know that his well-being was in my hands. And when my ship anchored in an exotic port, I saw the stars in the eyes of the foreign nationals standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the quay, staring in awe at the sight of an American fighting ship which happened to be my home.
So what do I, as a veteran, make of the president’s alleged comments about “losers” and “suckers”? The first thing that came to mind was something uttered by Alice Roosevelt Longworth, eldest daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, upon the death of the notoriously incompetent Warren Harding: “[He] was not a bad man, he was just a slob.”
Forgive me, but I think that, if Donald Trump referred to members of the military, including the honored dead, as reported, then he is indeed a bad man.
And, for that matter, a slob.