“I graduated high school in 1968 and I went into the military in 1969. My great grandfather served in Company D of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. My grandfather served on a destroyer in World War I, and my father landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. I was only 19 years old when I decided to enlist, but I wanted to follow in the family tradition. On March 21, 1969 I got a phone call asking me if I could leave that afternoon. I called my mom and she freaked out, but my dad was very proud, and very excited for me.
“I went to Lackland Air Force Base first, and then on to Biloxi, and then deployed to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines for 13 months. 10 of those months I spent TDY. When I got to Clark, they needed radio operators in Vietnam, so I raised my hand. I looked at it this way: It was my first time away from home. It was a chance to make my own life and do something for the country. I knew what war was. I knew you could get killed, but you don’t go thinking that. You go to do your job and to protect your comrades. I did what they told me they wanted me to do.
“I left Vietnam and was sent to South Dakota. It was too cold there, so I went back to Vietnam, with the 20th Tactical Air Support in Danang. In about November of 1971, some of the guys and I visited a Vietnamese orphanage. I asked my mom to send me something that would brighten the kids’ day. She sent me 100 yo-yos. We got mobbed by those kids, so she sent me 100 more. It was a war-torn country, but they were still humans. They still had needs. But I grew up in a home that taught us love. Even in war there is dignity. There is compassion. There is so much pain and despair and misery too, but we wanted to do something small to brighten it.
“I got back from Vietnam and was working in New York at a secure building. One day, there was a woman there and she had no way to get in the building. I asked her if I could escort her. That night, I saw her again across the street. I walked over and said, ‘I’m going to a movie, would you like to go?’ That was back when a picture was only a quarter. She said yes, and now it’s 44 years, 7 kids, 25 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild later.
“I retired in March 1992 from the Air Force and started at the Pennsylvania Police Academy in May. I retired in 2012 as a Law Enforcement Park Ranger. I like to say I arrested bears. I learned so many things from my time in the military and as a police officer. I polished my shoes every day. I learned total quality management and the need for integrity. I learned that trust is everything. But the most important lesson I learned was on March 16, 2007.
“I was driving home from the VA Medical Center to see if I had prostate cancer from Agent Orange. It started to snow and I started to slide. I slowed way down, but it was like a sheet in front of me. I never saw the other car until I hit it. I got out and walked around the vehicle to assess the damage, and saw a young lady on the pavement. I was a police officer at the time. I started CPR right away and I still remember her husband screaming, and seeing the baby in the car. Both of them were uninjured, but the woman was unconscious for 45 minutes until the ambulance could get there. She lived a week. I had 5 broken ribs and a ruptured spleen, but I hadn’t felt a thing.
“In March 2017, her family had a 10 year anniversary of her passing. I went, and they all hugged me. Her mom said to me, ‘You know, it was not your fault. I’m not blaming her for not wearing her seatbelt, and I’m sure not blaming you. Accidents happen everyday.’
“I’ve learned that you make your own choices but you have to own your consequences. I’ve learned that life is made up of a million small moments. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, so we have to do as much as we can today. The military was the greatest thing I ever did. I made lifelong friends in the process. And while I’m not the most important person in the world, I sure can do my part to make a difference in it. We all can.”