My dad was a helicopter crew chief in the U.S. Navy. I grew up hearing phrases like “fire in the hole”, “taking liberty”, “shit on a shingle”, and “hit the head.” When I was a kid, he even used to say “prepare for take off” whenever we would get onto a freeway onramp. Many of the things I remember from my childhood are directly related to him being in the military. He use to even run through a “preflight” checklist of our car anytime we’d take a roadtrip.
I grew up in Mountain View, California. Which is about an hour drive from San Francisco. If you were to make that drive, about half way through, you would pass the Golden Gate National Cemetery on your right hand side.
This is a military cemetery that holds many medal of honor recipients. Everytime we made this drive, my dad would say to my sister and I sitting in the backseat: “eyes right!” and then he would salute the cemetery. My dad did this every time we drove to San Francisco, without fail. Now that I am grown and have children of my own, It’s funny those little things that I remember. There is no doubt that my patriotism was instilled in me by him.
When my dad was 18 years old, he was drafted into the military because of the Vietnam War. I’m sure like most 18 year olds he had other plans that did not include being drafted into the military in a time of war but he went with his head held high and served his country honorably. He didn’t talk very much about his time in the Navy but I do know that he was in four helicopter crashes and I do remember one story in particular.
He was a crew chief on a search & rescue helicopter. That crew had shift schedules just like any other job. My dad had a baby at home (my older brother) and was scheduled to fly one Christmas Eve. His coworker, who didn’t have kids, offered to trade shifts so my dad could be at home with his son on Christmas. So they traded.
That flight crashed and everyone on board died, including the man who took my dad’s place. That man’s name is on the Vietnam war memorial wall instead of my dad’s name. I’m here and my kids are here because that man traded shifts with my dad.
Anytime I feel like I’m having a rough day at the office, I think of the people who have jobs like my dad’s – military, police, firefighters, first responders and it puts it all back into perspective.