Armed Forces Day: The guilt of a Navy veteran

photo courtesy and copyright: United States Navy (ret) CPO Paul Clark

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2014 — I had the honor of serving in the United States Navy from 1961 to 1981, retiring as a Chief Electronics Warfare Technician. I have always been proud of being allowed to serve my country and also achieving the signal honor of being initiated into the fraternity of Chief Petty Officer (CPO) of the United States Navy.

Through the years, however, there has always been a struggle within me when someone thanks me for my service.

When thanked, the first thought I always have is one of surprised gratitude that there are citizens who still recognize the value of military service. That event warms my heart.

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Then comes the ever occurring guilt of trying to find the proper response to the compliment. “You’re welcome” is not a proper response from my perspective. It was my honor to have served. I should be the one thanking America for the opportunity to serve. No thanks needed or wanted. My response of “It was my honor” leaves me feeling guilty of a prideful boasting that I served.

This guilt of pride is all about what I was allowed to do and what I was allowed to accomplish. Thanks to the Navy I have been places and experienced things that most people would pay big money for the price of admission. See me back then and you saw a top of his game CPO. That pride lives on, but grows dimmer with time and telling.

I am also embarrassed that I am no longer that person. To tell people how glorious that time was seems to be nothing but empty boasting, however well intentioned.

The guilt of being mistaken for a hero comes to worry me every time a veteran’s event occurs. I am no hero by any stretch of the story, and I did nothing remotely heroic for all twenty years served. I saw heroes in action and have seen or heard stories of heroes. All that I can lay claim to is being true to my oath of enlistment and standing on the proverbial wall. Do not mistake me for any of those great ones that paid the price required of true heroes.

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The Navy may have brought Barbara and I together, however there is always the guilt of the time stolen from my family. I am that thief. I stole from my children and from my wife. I gave that time to the Navy. Barbara, on the other hand, had the toughest job in the Navy – Navy Wife. She was and is jealous of the Navy. Rightly so, but with a wisdom that I lacked in this matter, she allowed me to pursue my dreams in the Navy. For that alone I thank her and owe her for the rest of our days. My children, on the other hand, consider being called Navy Brats as the highest among honors. Go figure.

I am guilty of loving the Navy and the ships too much. So much so was this love that separation from the Navy left me feeling guilt ridden and in anguish over abandoning the Brotherhood. Realizing that I could no longer contribute was the cause of a great and dark depression. That is all behind me now and I have moved forward. Now I cherish those memories of days/weeks/months at sea, sailors as close as brothers, and challenging events on the horizon

Finally, I am completely guilty of telling sea stories. The stories that are told always contain elements of truth, humor, and amazement. They are meant to entertain as well. They are my hard earned right and privilege to tell. I intend them to educate you and amaze you and to also satiate that longing within me to remain forever young and at sea. If by chance it inspires another to serve then we are all twice blessed.

Of all these things I am guilty of because that is who I am. A veteran shaped by the decisions made and the course laid in. A volunteering of service that rewarded the giver more than the gift. All that I ever did was my duty. To be allowed the memory of that is all the reward or thanks I’ll ever need, Thank you.

Retired United States Navy CPO, Paul D. Clark

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  • Linda Blevins

    Re: The guilt of a Navy veteran: Sir, I am a woman. Reading your (obviously and profoundly) heartfelt sentiments, I am so moved that if I
    was able I would join the Navy this hour. My age prevents it…but I will always wonder how many were moved to join as a result of your service.

  • Sealord

    Wonder if he was in the last SLQ-26(V) course taught at TI?

  • Taxpayer1234


    You were called to serve. Don’t EVER feel guilty about answering that call!!!

    Love, one with 12 veterans in her family

  • ScotWarrior1066

    Chief, I understand your feelings and I say “thank you” for serving our country. You may not feel that you are a hero, but you did serve the oath we both took and you served it honorably. I don’t attend many veteran events because I do not feel as though I deserve the respect and honor given, for I am no hero but I’ve known many. My problem is survivor’s guilt. I served in Vietnam from 1966-67 with the 5th Marines and while I was medically retired from the Corps, I have had the opportunities many good men were never to see and for that I find it difficult to live. I do though and attempt to give back to other veterans of all eras by becoming educated and experienced as a Mental Health professional.

    We served our country as we were raised to do, and for that we can be proud of our accomplishments. When folks tell me “thank you,” I simply respond that it was my pleasure because it was no matter what life events have occurred. No, I’m no hero, but I did my duty just as you did yours and for that we will always be Brothers.

    Semper Fi Chief

  • Larry Foster

    the thing is chief, even if you never had to do the heroic things many military men did, you were there and ready to do so if called upon. That is what you are being thanked for. Not every soldier, airman, marine, sailor can give everything but they can be willing to if they are called upon to do so. I put seven years in the army from 66 to 73 and every day I wish I had stayed in for the 20 or more. You did it and we thank you for it. There are many ways to be a hero.

  • Stoned_Conservative

    Wearing a of the US Military makes us Brothers. Each job has its place. None is more important than the other. My thanks goes to our Medics. CIB Vietnam.

  • Don Bailey

    You are so right, it is an honor and privilege to serve in this nation’s military service. Having said that though, there is only 1% of our nation’s youth who serve. Furthermore, recruiters have a difficult time finding those who actually qualify because the requirements are much more stringent than most would have you believe.