Join us as we celebrate Veterans Day with our guest blogger and U.S. Navy veteran Keith Kassidy. He reflects on his service and homecoming:
If you ask any veteran, “Why did you join the military?”, you will get one of a hundred different reasons. For some, they may feel as though it was their patriotic duty. Others may have been following in the footsteps of a parent.
As for me, I was lost and in need of direction. I wanted to run away, and a stint in the Navy didn’t seem like a bad idea. It wouldn’t take long for me to realize that all the things from which I was running, would be the things I missed the most.
I was nineteen years old and attending college at Vincennes University, but didn’t feel as though it was a good fit for me. I withdrew after one semester and came home.
And then “life” started. I began working through a temp agency at a factory in Richmond. It was nice to have a steady paycheck for the first time in my life, but the need to run was overwhelming.
I remember the day I clocked out for lunch and handed my timecard to our Human Resource Manager. “Joe,” I said, “I’m going to join the Navy”. I met with the recruiter the next day. It wasn’t long after that before I was on my way to Great Lakes Recruit Training Center aka, “boot camp”.
I had landed a sweet gig as a Hospital Corpsman. My first duty station after school was at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia. I worked as a nursing assistant on an Orthopedic Surgery ward. I cared for both active duty and retired veterans of all branches of the service.
As any nurse will tell you, relating to your patients is necessary to make them feel comfortable. I found it easiest to relate to them by sharing stories of home and listening to their stories as well. There was never a better feeling than meeting someone that knew where Hagerstown, Indiana was, let alone someone that had been there.
“That’s the place with the big smorgasbord! I’ve eaten there with my family.”
I would tell stories of trips to Richmond to visit with aunts, uncles and cousins; trips that would ultimately end in a visit to Veach’s Toy Store with my grandmother or a picnic in Glenn Miller Park after stopping by Ford’s Market for the best chicken I had ever eaten.
After leaving Virginia, I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Air Wing in Cherry Point, North Carolina. From here, I would see the world. I arrived in Cherry Point in January 1996. “Welcome aboard”, they said, “you deploy to the Mediterranean in June!”. This was not exactly the welcome I expected, but it was exactly why I had enlisted.
I said goodbye to my family and set sail for the Mediterranean as medical support with a squadron of Marines. During my six-month deployment on board the USS Saipan, I visited eight countries in Europe and Africa.
During this deployment, I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in the field with a small group of Marines. Recall, this was in the 90’s and recording music from the radio onto a cassette tape was normal practice. My Marines and I had left the ship for a three-week field exercise in Turkey. It was October and the evening temperatures had begun to drop. We had been given permission to build a small campfire.
One of the Marines had brought along a “boom box” and his latest tape from home. His wife had recorded the local radio station. Not only had she captured the latest music we had missed, but the commercials as well. As great as it was to hear the music, we all looked forward to the commercials the most. I did not recognize any of the places from his hometown, but they were no different from the places I remembered growing up.
Veteran Comes Home
I don’t think Hagerstown is much different than any other small town. If you really think about it, the military is made up of small own kids, each looking to find their way. Although, we may have left home, home never left us. We swore an oath to protect our country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. In reality, we swore to protect our families, our communities and our hometowns.
It’s been more than twenty years now since I ended my eight-year tour in the Navy.
Since then, I graduated from Indiana University East with a bachelor’s degree in Natural Science and Mathematics with a concentration in Biology. I have taken advantage of opportunities to become involved with the community including small business owners, local radio, Richmond Parks Department and the Richmond Art Museum.
I am grateful for every opportunity I was given during my enlistment. However, the one thing I am most grateful for is making me realize how much I missed home.
Happy Veteran’s Day to all of my fellow Wayne County veterans. Your service is appreciated.