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If Only I Had Known!: Army or Navy

05/31/10 5:55PM By Bill Seamans
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(HOST) This afternoon we begin sampling some of the essays recorded at this year's VPR Commentators Brunch. The theme was, "If Only I Had Known." On this Memorial Day, retired ABC News correspondent Bill Seamans tells about how he chose a military career.

(SEAMANS)   I and my best buddy sat in Hope High school’s auditorium in Providence and listened to the pitch of military recruiters who looked like they had just jumped out of those iconic "We Need You" posters.  We were sort of pre-enlisted and we were there to declare which arm of the armed forces we preferred as our contribution to World War Two.

My pal, Elliot, immediately checked off his--NAVY!  I argued ARMY. You're on solid ground if something happens.  Elliot answered, No, No---go NAVY!---see the world ... clean beds.  So I made one of those inestimable decisions that have misguided me along that adventure called LIFE.  I checked off ARMY.

Three years later I returned after digging holes in Northern France, the Ardennes and the Rhineland as a grunt in the 94th Infantry Division and found that my buddy had not even left home.  As a cadet in the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps, Elliot was graduating from Brown with a  mechanical engineering degree---all expenses paid!  He was assigned as a damage control officer in a destroyer patrolling the Mediterranean, a very dangerous combat position.  But the European war was over and he told me he was known as the head man below decks.  That was Navy-speak for supervising the perilous job of  unclogging the heads as Navy toilets are known.

To celebrate the glorious victory that my 94th and other divisions had won on land, the mayors of Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo and all those other hazardous shoreline places threw huge parties and invited American Navy officers to come ashore and celebrate with their city's beautiful  daughters.  Elliot survived more perilous duty!

After the Navy, he went Georgetown Law School, again free under the GI Bill, to study Patent Law while he worked at the U.S. Patent office learning firsthand how that bureaucracy worked. Then back to Providence which, unknown to many, is a hotbed of design and development, like companies that protect their ideas under patent law. Elliot became a very lucrative patent law firm and reputedly owns about a quarter of the state of Rhode Island.

Now during our latter lives we have met off and on but we don?t greet each other with the familiar, "Hello, how the hell are ya?" and a handshake or macho hug. Instead, Elliot hails me with a smiling and somewhat punitive, "Well, I told you so. Go NAVY!" And, of course, I reply, "If only I had known."


Check out the "If Only I Had Known!" series page


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