Friday, August 24, 2007

You Gotta Have a Plan

In his farewell address before the US Congress in 1951, General Douglas MacArthur closed his remarks with the poignant statement, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away … And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just – fade away..."

Always a man of his word, MacArthur did exactly what he said he would; he just slowly faded away, becoming thin and transparent, wispily disappearing from public view, until he finally vanished completely on April 5, 1964. This is too often the fate of old warriors. A life in the military can consume you, and when that part of your life is over, it is often difficult to begin again, sometimes too difficult. It is incredibly hard to come to terms with the fact that you will never again do those things that were so much a part of your every day life for so many years. You will never again put on the uniform, never again stand on the deck of a warship in pitching seas, never again take the beach, or stand braced in the open hatch of a 60 ton Abrams as it powers through everything in its path. You’ll never again streak across the sky, heading out to intercept a bogy at twice the speed of sound. You may have good friends, but you’ll never again have the camaraderie of your fellows in arms, that unique symbiotic bond that you have with even those you can’t stand. It is incredibly difficult to go from commanding men in battle to taking directions from some pimply faced twenty-year old Assistant Manager in your new job as shelf stocker at Home Depot. One day you’re shouting orders like “Follow me, men!” and charging up the boarding ladder, six months later you’re saying things like “Hi, welcome to Wal-Mart” and the most dangerous thing you do is retrieve carts from the parking lot. For a lot of us it’s demeaning, humiliating even. Some of us can’t bear the thought of it, so we hang around. We become contractors or move into lousy government service jobs so we can stay near the military. And it get’s worse. Retiree cooties: you can see it in the gate guard’s eyes when you show your official old-fart blue ID card on your weekly visit to the local base commissary and exchange. You can see it in the eyes of those in uniform, those dammed young kids, and even if you don’t advertise (no retiree hat, no retiree T-shirt) somehow they just know you’re no longer one of them. And it just kills you, because everything after military life is one long anti-climax.

This is why whenever you talk to an old vet all we ever talk about is our time in the military. We bore the ever living crap out of everybody who knows us with endless tales. Eventually they stop listening, or they roll their eyes so much that it leaches away the enjoyment we get from telling the stories yet again. So, eventually we join the AMVETs, the VFW, or the Legion and spend every Saturday night down at the post getting drunk and telling the same dammed sea stories to each other over and over. We bitch endlessly about the stupid officers and malignant NCOs we served under, the endless deployments we endured, the shoddy equipment we were forced to make due with, the shitty food we choked down, the lack of sleep, the greedy defense contractors, and civilians who-don’t-understand. We state gruffly how we much we hated Korea, or Vietnam, or Iraq or whatever toilet we were stuck in, fucking hated it, man. But we can’t stop talking about it. And we never get tired of it, or each other. A significant fraction of us don’t last ten years, MacArthur made it thirteen, that’s better than average, but then he was an above average kind of guy. We end up drinking too much, we start eating too much and too often, we stop exercising, and our marriages fall apart with alarming frequency. And many of us just slowly fade away.

Well, I’m giving notice, here and now: I have no intention of just fading away. I’m going kicking and screaming, hoopin' and a hollerin' all the way. That’s why it is important to have a plan and set goals for your post retirement life. All of which leads me inexorably … here.

I have a plan.

The broad outline of which is: I intend to use this blog to become Ultimate Emperor of the Universe. Relax, I didn’t say Evil Overlord, I’ll be a good Emperor, you’ll love me, you’ll cheer me in the streets, you’ll name your children after me (you’d better, or else there will be consequences. I mean otherwise what’s the point?).

Details to follow.


  1. Oh yeah, you gotta have a plan.

    I wasn't in long enough to have the problem of fading away. Although, a decade and a half later, and a hundred extra pounds, I was once invited to a friend-of-a-friend's paint-ball game (to be on the losing side, unbeknownest to me). I disrupted their plans. Coordinated and commanded an intense defense that repulse several vets on their side. Then I was on the attack team in another field, made my way (sloppily IMHO) across an open (grassy) field, popped up 5 feet away from the first defender and put two paint smears on his chest. He screamed like a flaming wood duck having not seen my advance over 100 yards, looking in my direction. Of course, since he screamed so loud, I only pegged two other guys before they x-ed me out. That's when I came to grips with the knowledge that I would never be able to put that time (my service) behind me.

    On another note. I went with a bunch of college friends to a convention (Siggraph) many years ago. As we drove out we started with the "remember when..." stories. The guy that organized us announce he had absolutely no intention of having such a conversation, and that if we did we could get out of the car. We've never had those conversations again. It was a good call on his part.

    Keep busy, make new friends along with the old ones, live much and well, it's a good recipe for not fading away.

  2. ...make new friends

    Steve, after I conquer the universe I'll have lot's of friends, you just wait.


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