On November 11th of each year, America observes Veterans Day in remembrance of the armistice of World War 1. Veterans from all of our prior and subsequent wars are honored with touching speeches that give Thanks for the freedom we have, and for the veterans, living and dead, that made it so.
For me, a former Navy veteran dating back to the fifties, it has become especially meaningful. In Florida, a group of my old associates traditionally attend the annual UDT-SEAL Muster at the UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, FL. The famed Scouts and Raiders of WW II trained on the beaches there. It is customary to refer to the event as a Muster, since many of the old warriors show up, have a few drinks, swap legions of stories of when we were young and try and forget we are old.. An active duty platoon of SEALS puts on a demonstration of some of their capabilities, including a parachute landing, live explosives, and a hostage rescue.
To the degree that generational continuity can be maintained, the old and the young commingle, and there is little harm in it and much good.
Several years ago I ran into Bob Nissley there. Bob was a Master Chief Petty Officer that I knew many years ago and had not seen in over 50 years------since a dark night we sat on an ambush together in a place called Vietnam. We were both wounded that night. I had not seen him since. Bob had traveled down from his home in northern Florida to attend the Muster. Men like Bob, including myself, make the pilgrimage, for in truth that is what it is, to recall what we once were and to relive for a brief time the glories of our past. Our time has come and gone, and we are yet unwilling to totally relinquish it.
During the drive from my home in the hill country town of Bandera, Texas to the Muster, as we traveled the beautiful palm lined ocean highway, an unusual thought came to my mind. I was reminded of the annual pilgrimage to Canterbury that Chaucer chronicled so beautifully in verse and bawdy humor. In a way, and with a different meaning, even the religious aspect remains. Chaucer’s companions made the week long, 80 mile journey from London by horse and on foot ostensibly to worship their maker. But the carousing,drinking, monstrous oaths, and tales were cut from identical cloth. All that the UDT-SEAL Muster lacks to be remembered into perpetuity is someone of the playful mindset and the literary talent of Chaucer. Men like him have been replaced by photographers and journalists. Literature and our culture are the poorer for it. That is why the Canterbury Tales will last for centuries after the photographs have turned to dust. Who knows if the pictures and the history of the UDT-SEAL sailors will remain in the memory of man for another hundred years? Chaucer’s writing of so much about his supplicants, moves me to write a few words that will be devoted to my recent pilgrimage to Florida’s Atlantic coast.
The typical Scout and Raider or Frogman attendee, is over sixty, still healthy, self-supporting, self-reliant,and confident of his ability to persevere until a task is done. Also, he is capable of operating alone or as a team to complete the task. These men are above the average. Many are achievers, hyper-actives, individualists who selected special forces units to both prove themselves and because they detested routine. Many would qualify as romantics of a sort --- direct, honest men who hate pretense and duplicity----idealists who have found the hardest thing in the world to forget our own illusions. Not only do these self deceptions die harder than the men themselves, they are never forgotten. No, the youthful ideals at best fade slowly, as the challenges that motivated us are met or have proved over time to be too difficult to overcome. Most of our illusions involved ourselves and are deeply imbedded in our personalities. It is clear that the yearly pilgrimages are a means of restoring us, not from the vantage point of tired old sailors, but as still vital men who need to maintain memories and interaction with others who look on life as we do. The Muster is a time to browse through the museum, view the pictures, posters of oneself in one’s prime, recall the names of old friends and acquaintances living and dead, perhaps see some of the living and learn of some that will not make another Muster, and taste whatever memory permits of the old associations. Warm emotions, nostalgic feelings, and the prospect of seeing old friends are unusually seductive and ensure excellent yearly attendance. Perhaps the strongest draw is the realization that these pictures were taken in a time when we all felt we were immortal, a time that seemed almost free from care, when death did not frighten us. I write this as a tribute to my friends that have passed on: Sam Orr, MCPO Bob Nissley, MCPO Bob Gallagher, MCPO Mike McDonald. Lcdr. Jose Taylor, Lcdr. Al Ashton and too many others to name them all. RIP Warriors. Also as a tribute to my friends in the NAVSPECWAR community and too all veterans of all wars and all services,
THANK YOU and WELCOME HOME.
F. M. “DOC” COX
CPO USN (Ret) Inshore Undersea Warfare Group 1
Vietnam Aug 66 to Jan 70