Decisions at the Crossroads

Yesterday while driving and listening to the radio I heard a conversation about a singer from the early part of the last century who sang the blues and many of them contained a reference to crossroads.  It got me to thinking about the many times I have had crossroads in my life.

The first major crossroad that I really remember was after my first year of college, for up until then the choices in my crossroads were pretty minor. I had not been a good student, I would rather play around and have a good time than study. This was the era of Vietnam and since my grades were not good I realized that my student deferment would not last very long.

Looking at this crossroad I figured that I had a couple of choices: 1) Find work in a field where I could get some training or 2) go into the military. Going into the military was not an option that appealed to me very much, so I tried option 1. I went looking for a job as a carpenter and hoping I could get into the apprenticeship program. Every place I went the superintendent wanted to know my draft status. If I had known that getting into the apprenticeship program would have extended my student deferment I could have told them that I had a student deferment. This meant that I was looking at the other side of the crossroad.

This branch of the crossroad involved the military or going to Canada and avoiding the draft. Many men were taking this option, some came to regret their choice and others survived the experience and return home after many years. I was talking to a friend, who was a few years older, and we were discussing my situation, he suggested that I go down to the recruiting office and see what they had to offer. Without telling anyone I went down to the recruiting offices. First I went to the Coast Guard, then the Air Force and the Navy, they all had the same message; “Sorry, but we are filled up and it will be some time before we have any openings”.

This presented a new crossroad, the third in as many months, go back across the hall and talk with the Army and see what they had to say and if I did not like what they had to say or just leave and pack up and go to Canada. Those were my only to options now, because I was not about to climb the stairs to the second floor and see the Marines. Mind you I have nothing against the Marines other than many I have known are just plain out and out crazy.

I ended up talking with the Army Sergeant and decided that joining would definitely be better than getting drafted. Going to Canada was still in the back of my mind and I had not signed any papers, yet.

I went home and for the next couple days pondered what I should do. I ended up going into the Army. After the physicals, waiting around to be sworn in, going to the airport and waiting for a flight to Fort Ord, CA, I paused and said to myself “What the hell did I just do”?

After Basic and Advanced Training, I found that I was becoming to like the military and its way of life. After a year and a half of living a pretty easy life, reality jumped out in front of me, I got orders for Vietnam. Since I worked in personnel, I like everyone else tried to find any way feasible to get the orders changed, to no avail. So the next year was spent sitting behind a desk on the Army side of beautiful, downtown Cam Ranh Bay, though the Air Force side of the peninsula was not much better except they had the beaches on the South China Sea. I did not see any combat during my stay, for that I am grateful.

Upon my return to the US in May, which was a short stop over on my way to Germany, I proposed to Kathy, the girl I had been seeing and writing to for over four years, she said yes and we planned to be wed in October. This meant that I would go to Germany and arrange for a place to bring my wife, go back to the US, get married and return with my bride to Germany.

Not long after moving into our apartment my wife became ill and was sent to the hospital in Nurnberg. They were unable to treat her and she was sent to the Army hospital in Landstuhl to continue her treatment. She spent six long months at Landstuhl before they decided that she needed to be treated in a hospital closer to home. We were sent to California, she to the Presidio of San Francisco and me to Oakland. We were in California for two years and she got progressively better.

From California we traveled to Massachusetts where our daughter was born and off we went again to Germany, this time to Munich. We spent three years in Munich, going to the Oktoberfest, Volksmarching and learning about the culture. Now came the first of two major crossroads we would encounter during our years in the military, all of them concerning either to stay in or get out. Towards the end of our three years in Germany we needed to decide if we wanted to reenlist or move back to Portland, Oregon. Many letters went back and forth across the seas and we finally decided that with ten years already served it would be foolish to throw them away and return to an uncertain job market.

Our next move was to Fort Huachuca, AZ, a post out in the middle of the high desert of Southern Arizona, not far from Tombstone. We liked our new home, we bought a house and began to think we would retire there. During the ten years we called Arizona home I went back to Germany again, by myself, and was fortunate enough to return to Fort Huachuca until we decided to retire.

Our second crossroad occurred in January of my nineteenth year, we learned that my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After visiting my parents and returning to Arizona we decided we needed to retire and return home and be with our families while we still had time to spend with them.

Returning to Portland I was unable to find work that corresponded with what I did in the Army. Now after twenty years and thousands of miles traveled I finally became a carpenter. The work was challenging and rewarding. As a carpenter you work in many different areas, I worked with concrete and finally worked in clean rooms for a major computer chip maker.

September 11th had a major impact on our industry, one year later work came to a grinding halt. Many were laid off and work was hard to obtain. I was out of work for two years when I looked at another crossroad this being whether to continue waiting for work to pick up or step out of this field and go back to my army training of administration. The decision was not all that hard since my unemployment had been exhausted and we did not want to dip any farther into our savings.

Working for a temporary agency has its ups and downs, one day you get called for a job that will last one day or one that will last a week. Finally I was called to a long term job, it lasted six months when I was then eligible to be hired full time. I was there for eight years before I lost my job and had to again decide which path of the crossroad I would take. For social security I was right between early retirement of 62 and full retirement of 66. The economy still had not picked up from the 2008 recession and being a senior did not make for a good job prospect, opportunities were slim. Kathy and I decided to pull the pin and fully retire.

Retirement has had its benefits and its challenges. I know that I am enjoying my retirement. Now that spring is here I am looking forward to getting back onto my bike and do some traveling in the area. Kathy’s retirement has not been as easy as we had hoped, her illness has not allowed her to fully experience the joy of her retirement.

Crossroads are intersections where we must decide whether to go straight ahead or to turn left or right. I have experienced that I was able to choose the right course for me and my family with a fair amount of confidence. Whether it be luck or the hand of God (which is what I believe), it is with the knowledge you are not alone, and that choosing the right path is a matter of believing in yourself, and hopefully when you look back it is with the confidence that the right choice was made.