My Favorite Veteran

In honor of Veterans Day, I interviewed my grandfather about his time serving in the Navy.  My grandparents and I are so close and we've talked about their life in the military countless times.  I've learned snippets throughout the years but I wanted to sit down and have an in-depth conversation about his experiences.

There is nothing I respect more than our military.  It is a sacrifice I cannot wrap my head around and a debt that can never be repaid.  I hope that anytime you see a veteran you feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and honor to be in their presence.  I know I do.  I love my grandfather so much I can't put it into words and I am so proud of his life and his service. 

My grandfather retired from the Navy after serving for 20 years.  After growing up dreaming of being in the Navy, he joined when he was 18 in 1954.  His cousin, Charles, was in the Navy and actually was on one of the ships in Pearl Harbor and survived the attacks there in 1941.  Charles was a role model that my grandfather greatly respected and he wanted to be like him.  That combined with being from a small town that wasn't bursting with opportunity in those days, led him to making the decision to join.  To me, this was a monumental decision to make but to him, it was a huge honor and the fulfillment of a dream.

He joined in the summer of 1954 and spent 11 weeks in Massachusetts before receiving his orders.  At the time he joined the navy, the pay was $78 a month (with a $50 monthly increase upon getting married).  He married my grandmother almost exactly 6 months after joining and they spent the next 20 years living in Oregon, Virginia, Rhode Island and the Great Lakes.  I think out of all the places they lived Oregon was definitely their favorite.  While my grandfather was stationed there, he was a recruiter and a volunteer firefighter (I didn't even know this until after I was married to a firefighter!).

I have a serious case of wanderlust in general and it was amazing to hear about all the different places he visited and explored while abroad.  He visited Cuba several times, Europe (Portugal, Gibraltar, France, Italy, Spain, Malta, Greece), Vietnam, Korea, Japan and more.  Being on the ships was hard work but I am glad that when they went to port that they were able to take advantage of exploring parts of the world that most people never see.  When I asked him his favorite parts of being in the military, travel was definitely one of them.

When on the ships, grandad worked as a boiler tender to help make steam to run the engines.  Grandad said the long hours while they were on the ships were hard and demanding but that he loved the relationships between the sailors and the views.  He talked about being able to go to a higher point on the ship at night and just watching the waves and how the phosphorus would sparkle as the ship cut through the water.  I can only imagine how beautiful the stars are in the middle of the ocean at night!  It must have been breathtaking.

We talked about life on the ships and he was very complimentary of the entertainment they tried to provide.  They typically had a movie every night, good food and when he was on the USS Ranger they were even visited by Bob Hope on his Christmas tour!  The only way they had to communicate with loved ones back home was via telegram or letters.  Mail wasn't very dependable and could take time to arrive.  He found out about the birth of his daughter (my mom) via telegraph even!  I can't even imagine how hard it would be to go 8-9 months at a time without hearing your loved ones voices or seeing their faces.  What a blessing video chat is to the military these days when they are able to use it!

While in the military, his favorite job was working as a recruiter.  He loved the public speaking aspect, getting to know people and helping young men prepare to join the Navy.  My grandfather is so good at talking to anyone and really funny so I can definitely see him excelling in this position.  He served in this capacity twice.  Once, while they were stationed in Oregon for 3 years and then again in Great Lakes he worked as a battalion commander to recruits until his retirement.

One of the most notable events during his time away was the Pueblo incident in Korean waters.  They were almost done with their time in Vietnam and at the end were unexpectedly sent to Korea.  During this time they were on the ship for over 60 days without being on land once (that's a long time to go without going to port at least).  A quick historical rundown: the Pueblo was in international waters off the coast of Korea, Korea claimed they were in their waters and took the ship and it's crew hostage.  The US moved a large military presence into the surrounding area during negotiations.  After 11 months, the North Korean military kept the ship but allowed the hostages to cross the bridge to South Korea to return to the US.  I've studied this incident throughout the years after hearing my grandfather talk about it.  I find it very interesting, especially since that's a country that we still struggle with in international relations. 

I learned a lot from sitting down and talking to my grandfather.   A lot about their lives during that time I didn't know, about life on the ship and stories of all the places he was able to see.  What stuck out to me the most during our conversation though was his love of our country.  His selfless dedication shone through.  I think that is something we've lost in my generation that we could learn from his.  Selfishness wasn't an option.  Service to the country came first.  I honestly can't say that I hear anyone my age talk about loving this country or wanting to serve it the way my grandfather does. It is truly inspirational hearing him talk.

 The values that he had when he entered the military to serve his country are the same values he exhibits today.  He truly cares about other people and wants everyone to feel respected, valued and proud to live in the USA.  All my life, he has taught me the importance of respecting our nation, serving others and being a good person.  He may have stopped serving in the military after 20 years, but he has continued to serve his country, community and family ever since.  My grandfather's dedication to our family and to taking care of us is one of the qualities I admire about him the most.  It's actually a running joke that I can't tell him just yet about something I need to do or repair because he'll run out and take care of it that minute (especially my windshield wipers!).  The desire to serve is innate inside of him and he seeks to serve us in any way he can.  His humble nature would never allow himself to see it but his life is a true example of the life of servant leadership Jesus calls us to live. 

To be honest, writing this post was a lot harder than I expected.  Not because I didn't have enough to say but because I had so much to say and wanted to honor him with my words.  Not to mention, nothing gets me more emotional than talking about Jesus, my family or veterans.  Combine all three and I'm an official emotional mess. 

My grandfather has been my best friend, travel buddy and guiding light my entire life.  Grandad, you are always telling us how proud you are of us but I hope you know how proud we are of you!  One of the greatest honors of my life is being your granddaughter.  Thank you for your love, devotion, sacrifice and service to our family, our military and our world.  I love you!


  1. This is so special and you are going to cherish this post forever! You really need to print it out! I wish I could have talked to my Popo about his time in the military but he was very private about that. It wasn't until he passed away that we all found out he was awarded 2 bronze stars during his time in Korea--and we have no idea why! My dad was in the Air Force and stationed for 2 years in Italy during the 70s and I love looking at his pictures of Italy!
    Sarah at MeetTheShaneyfelts

  2. Love that you've managed to chronicle so much of his career in a way that you can share for years to come. Thank you (to him) for his service and sacrifice. <3