July 4, 1976: On America’s birthday, I found myself at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center being handed a white plastic bag and led on to a bus. We left the base and made our way to Solider Field in Chicago where we were lined up, asked to don our plastic bags and stood there as we were photographed. I now am part of a world record at a great football stadium — a world record for being part of the largest human American Flag.
This was the start of a 46-year ride of service to my country, and it was an amazing start. From Great Lakes, I was fortunate enough to pull a temporary “sales” assignment working with the recruiting command out of the Glenview Naval Station. My company commander in boot camp told the Navy that it appeared I knew a lot of people in the Chicagoland area, as almost every day somebody showed up at the gate with cookies or other snacks. I never received any of these but apparently my Commanding Officer loved them. After my recruiting assignment, I reported to the Naval Air Station in Meridian Mississippi where I completed my “A” school and was awarded the rate of Disbursing Clerk. I finished in the top three of the class and as a result ended up with “shore duty” for my first assignment: a remote post in Winter Harbor Maine. Not bad but I signed up for blue water, warmth and ports of call.
Maine proved to be a maturing experience. One of only two disbursing clerks, I had to learn to work independently and put in many hours. In addition to my day job from 6am to 6 pm, five days per week we stood watch every other day. I was assigned to the base fire department and ambulance which also covered many of the area towns as they did not have fire service. I was a young 18-year-old going out on accident calls, delivering a baby and doing CPR. It was definitely a time to grow up. When my time came to leave Maine, I wished I could stay, but the cold would be left behind as I joined the commissioning crew for the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) – just me and 6,000 of my shipmates who were ready to set sail on adventure.
Being the newest nuclear powered aircraft carrier in the fleet, they put us to sea to show us off around the world. The work was hard but the rewards were great. We travelled to St. Thomas, St. John, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Cuba (where I stood watch on the fence), Spain, Portugal, Italy (six ports), Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, and Israel. They were fun times but not without work. We worked 12 on, 12 off schedules at sea and had to stand watch while in port. A lot of guys would take my watch for me so I could go ashore more – this of course was in exchange for them to get front of the line privileges on payday (we paid everyone in case and lines were long).
While I was part of the Cold War Navy, we were brought in to a tough time when 52 American Diplomats were taken hostage by Iranian students. We were responsible for prepping and delivering equipment and supplies for a failed rescue mission which resulted in the death of eight shipmates on 4-24-1980. The crisis lasted 444 days and ended one minute prior to President Regan taking office. I still think of the shipmates I lost during my service. I think of them on Memorial Day and on Veterans Day as they gave the ultimate sacrifice: All gave some, some gave all.
When I enlisted to serve this great country, I took an oath – an oath that has no expiration and one that is payable with dedication, service and, if duty calls, giving my life. It reads:
“I, David Selzer, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
My service is one of the greatest honors of my life. To my fellow Veterans, thank you for your service. To all those who were not able to experience the great privilege of serving our country through military service, thank you for allowing me the great honor of serving you. Having travelled the way I have and seeing what I saw — good and bad — I can tell you we live in the greatest country on earth!
One final thought: Many of my shipmates and I suffer from some of the side effects of military service — things you just do not think of. For me, sleeping ¾ of an inch under a steel flight deck has left my hearing impaired, and two years of standing while working on steel decks has had an adverse effect on my knees. These are not complaints but simple facts. Some of my shipmates have severe long-term disabilities as a result of their service for all of us. I think of them today and personally donated to the Hero’s Health Fund in their name. The money raised to support organizations that help our veterans is needed, as so many veterans (like myself) do not qualify for VA services. It is unfortunate but it gives all of us the opportunity to now serve those who served for us.