I first went on active Navy duty a month after my 18th birthday during WWII.Was I being patriotic? Hell, no! In 1943, every 18-year-old kid who could walk and talk had to register for the draft, with about a 101% chance of being called up and shoved into the Army.
So, I became a sailor to avoid dying as a GI in some dirty European or Asian mud hole. Of course, Navy guys were killed, too, but I figured my survival chances were a hell of a lot better at sea. Luckily, I made it to my 20the birthday the week the war ended.
However, what I didn’t even consider at age 18 was that I’d be financially set for life (career military are called lifers) if I stayed and behaved in the Navy until age 38. Actually, if some recruiting nerd had tried to talk me into it after my time in the Pacific and Philippine campaigns, I’d have told him where to stick the Navy and all of its battlewagons.
Now that I’ve had decades and decades to think about it, I’ve come to a different conclusion about becoming a lifer. First, a caveat. I’m ranting in my usual exaggerated senior blather, and certainly recognize the dedication and bravery of those who’ve served and now serve in the military. I’ll always honor the memory of those other 18-year-olds in my June 1942 high school class who never came home from WWII.
On the other hand, I can gripe about all those lifers since then who went on to do 20 and more service years. Most earn a pension without ever hearing a shot fired in anger. Except for those who were in actual combat in the Korean War, Vietnam War and all the wars since, a service career can be mostly a soft, cushy racket.
Look at the stats. WWII had 10 million in uniform, and maybe 30% experienced combat. In all the wars since, maybe 15% faced actual dangers. So, along with Chicago politicians, punk singers, drug dealers and pro jocks, 20 years in the military is a good way to get income for the rest of your life. Further, it can happen without actually having to do any meaningful work for it.
For example, a college grad goes directly into the military today, gets some shoulder brass, doesn’t screw up and serves 20 years. At age 40, the annual lifetime pension will be least $70K a year, including free medical and a slew of other benefits. For those who don’t get brass, the pension is about $40K. It all keeps coming in whether the still-young, post-retiree then goes out and gets an honest job or not.
Did I try to convince my own now-past-40s kids to join the military when they were teens? Yes, I did. Did they listen to me? Hell no, they didn’t.