Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, George C. Scott and, my favorite, Elvis Presley — these are just a few of Hollywood’s military veterans. None of them is alive today.
Celebrity veterans who are still living include James Earl Jones, Tony Bennett, Hugh Hefner, Mel Brooks, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Roger Staubach, Ice-T and Montel Williams.
All of the above, minus a few exceptions, are from a time when so many Americans served. Even Hollywood had its veterans. Today, less than 1 percent of the population serves in the military.
Below are just a few of that 1 percent I know. They represent different ranks and branches of service. They don’t often make headlines or marquees. But considering how rare they are becoming, perhaps they should.
David wanted to serve since he was a boy and played Army with his brothers. As an adult, David served for six years and was deployed twice to the Middle East. “His time in the military and his deployments were some of the hardest years but also some of the most rewarding,” his wife says. “The military opened lots of doors for David and is a major factor in where he is today.” David’s older brother was killed in action. His younger brother still serves.
Frank graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy in 1997. Frank is still on active duty today. He says the military has taught him two important things: One, just a few sailors can do great things, and two, try each day to move the ball a little farther in the right direction.
Cory always thought he would be a police officer, but the Marine Corps’ ads in the mid-90s got him hooked. Today, he has been a Marine for 18 years, and his family has lived in 10 houses at eight duty stations. Although Cory appreciates the opportunity for leadership in the military, he says “the bonds you make with people from all walks of life … and trusting them with your life in an incredibly short amount of time” is why he has made it a career.
Landon joined the military because he wanted to fly. He deployed eight times in 12 years as a helicopter pilot. “He did believe he could make a difference,” his wife, Theresa, says. “Not necessarily in the world, but the Navy itself. He saw the potential.” Landon was killed in a helicopter accident nine months into a 10-month deployment. He never met his second son.
Ian joined the military 23 years ago, when he was only 17 and was still in high school. Ian’s father, an immigrant, taught him that “everybody should invest themselves in the country they live in.” After 12 years, Ian completed his education and became an officer. He still serves today and says, “Don’t thank me, for my time is not done yet. Thank a retired soldier.”
Mike, speaking of retirees, was in the Navy 33 years. “There is no greater extended family on Earth,” he says. Mike made 12 full deployments plus many more days at sea for training. Despite all the years away from home, he says he wouldn’t change a thing. “It is the best thing one can do for self and country,” he says.
Yank — that’s my dad. His real name is Lindell, but his call sign was Yank. Dad joined the Navy in 1971 after he saw a recruiting video of F4 Phantoms landing on carriers. “I was a senior in engineering and had recently been on a job interview with U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana,” Dad told me. “Landing on the ship seemed much more exciting.” Dad had never seen the ocean until he was flying over it. He retired after 32 years, 10 deployments, five major defense operations and serving on seven different aircraft carriers. “[People] have opinions and beliefs, and they debate whether the nation’s actions are right or wrong by comparison,” he says. “But it’s another thing to wear the Nation’s uniform and to participate in real activities that define those actions.”
Dustin, my favorite veteran on all. Like me, Dustin grew up around aircraft carriers and Navy bases, so he already felt “part of the Navy family.” He says that he continues to serve because “we need people who are willing to make the right decisions, regardless of personal or career impacts.” Dustin has been in the military for 17½ years — not that I’m counting. He has done three deployments, once making three at-sea pilot rescues, though he’d never tell you that.
This is just the start of the list! This week I’ll be sharing thoughts from other veterans on my Facebook page. Stop by facebook.com/sarah.is.smiley and share your story and/or your veteran’s story and picture.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.