I am a veteran without a gun.
I served during peacetime and represent about 25% of all veterans, or more than 5 million men and women who are called veterans in name only. As a result, every Veterans Day I don’t feel quite worthy.
I rarely claim my status publicly. I never put on my Air Force hat. I don’t bring my dog tags into restaurants to get free ice cream.
The military — because I was a medic — was kind of like “M*A*S*H” without the war.
I played tennis before work and spent weekends skiing throughout Europe.
Because I worked in intensive care and wore scrub greens I very rarely put on a real military uniform and when I did, I struggled to remember which way the stripes went.
I was not at all a “military guy.” I went in to learn medicine, and the military provided that. I was like many of the medics, nurses and doctors around me — paying off their school loans or training with service.
So I greet this holiday every year with some reluctance.
Obviously, I honor those who died or suffered greatly. It’s just that I did not, fortunately, and so I feel as if it’s not my holiday.
Here’s the thing. I only had a handful of real military experiences. The biggest was April 18, 1983, when the U.S. Embassy was bombed in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 63 people and injuring more than 120.
To this day, it is considered by historians as the start of modern Islamic terrorist warfare.
Several survivors were brought to the hospital where I worked in Wiesbaden, Germany. Over the course of maybe a week, it probably was similar to what real military medics do every day, every hour.
That single event shaped my life in many ways, not the least of which was the subsequent start of my journalism career.
There were other bombings during that time.
Most of the experiences, however, were common to any medical work: car crashes, heart attacks, sick babies.
Aside from an occasional insignia on a lapel, I could have been working at a local civilian medical center. It was very much a job.
Like “M*A*S*H,” the environment was extremely casual. In fact, we had our own cross-dressing “Klinger,” who was not afraid of wearing discreet pearls.
You have to remember, this was President Ronald Reagan’s military. There was very little oversight and lots of money to spend. Generals were more interested in building “Star Wars” defense systems than busting uniform violators.
Some people enter the military to escape a speckled past; others do it to ransack the world.
I would not call it a 4-year vacation, but it was close. Greece, England, Netherlands, Italy, East Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria — the list is extensive and almost a little embarrassing.
Plus, if you were a good enough athlete, you got to be on the little-known sports junket tour, traveling around Europe playing competitively on the military’s dime.
Make no mistake, peacetime in the military is not courageous. There is only the threat of danger. If something bad happens in another country, there is the slight possibility you could be deployed. But otherwise, you just have to deal with the inane, periodic training.
The most ridiculous for the ICU workers was chemical warfare training. Maybe once a year, we had to don our gas masks and try to work, which was impossible.
It usually took about 30 seconds before everyone looked at each other and mumbled, “OK, are we done?”
Veterans like me represent the second largest group of all veterans, just behind Vietnam vets, and we all have our stories of humility.
The fact is, there are veterans and then there are veterans.
And I’m the one without the gas mask.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.